CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Back to school season is around the corner, and local schools are preparing for a new enrollment of students. That includes the Maryvale School District, which expects to see dozens of school-aged asylum seekers.
The Maryvale District says it is preparing for an additional 66 students to enroll in the district this school year, but there are significant hurdles ahead, including making sure there are enough English as a New Language (ENL) teachers.
“Our main priority is not only to the taxpayers, but to the district teachers and students … whomever those students happen to be,” James McDermott, president of the Maryvale Board of Education, said.
The district enrolls about 2,000 students per year and is budgeted accordingly. McDermott says there has been a lack of communication from New York State, New York City and other leaders which has been frustrating.
“That just delays us making decisions on how we’re going to move forward,” McDermott said. “These aren’t the only students that are here in the Erie County area. There are more than 66 students, but 66 students fall in the Maryvale School District.”
The district says it must provide an education to all school-aged children within district limits per federal law. Enrollment requirements for students include residency in the district and keeping up to date with vaccinations.
“We’re waiting to enroll them. They haven’t officially been enrolled into our district yet. I know the Erie County Department of Health has been providing vaccinations,” Superintendent Joseph D’Angelo added.
The Maryvale district says the budget for this school year was already completed and approved, so it will have to cover expenses for these additional students. The district provides free breakfast and lunch for all students as part of a federal program. New bus routes may have to be created to accommodate for the students, too. Town officials hope for extra state funding to add more ENL services.
“My understanding is that the English is very limited for a lot of them, so you need to find folks who are speaking Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Turkish. Whatever language is their native language, we need someone who will work with them on that,” Cheektowaga Town Councilman Brian Nowak told News 4.
Superintendent D’Angelo ensures the district will provide an education to all students, no matter what.
“Our concern is to take care of these kids, keeping in mind that the kids didn’t ask to be put in this position. I want to make sure that we provide them stability and the best education possible and I’ll leave the political angle to the politicians,” D’Angelo said.
We’re told there may be additional school-aged children in other districts in Western New York, but it is unclear where they will be enrolled. Cheektowaga-Sloan told News 4 that they cannot confirm whether or not they will receive migrant students. News 4 also reached out to Buffalo Public Schools and has not heard back.
New York State Assemblymember Monica Wallace called for resources to aid school-aged asylum seekers at Cheektowaga-area schools in the following statement provided to News 4 Wednesday:
“For the past few weeks, I have been in contact with representatives of DocGo and New York City Mayor Eric Adams and urged them to come up with a plan to relocate asylum seekers out of Cheektowaga hotels. I also support Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s call for a moratorium on accepting additional asylum seekers. Western New York has always been welcoming to immigrants, as evidenced by the successful integration of thousands of refugees into our community over the past few years. But unlike that controlled and well-coordinated process, the recent influx of asylum seekers was the polar opposite – with hundreds of individuals being bussed to Cheektowaga from New York City in the middle of the night to any hotel willing to accept them. As a result, the Town of Cheektowaga, where many of our region’s hotels are located, has borne the burden of hosting all of the asylum seekers being sent to Western New York. This has left law enforcement, social services agencies, and school districts scrambling to meet the challenges posed by their arrival.
It is now clear that, despite assurances to the contrary by DocGo and the Adams’ administration, dozens of school-aged children are expected to enroll in Cheektowaga schools this September. I’ve already contacted state education officials to insist that additional resources be allocated to impacted Cheektowaga schools. Our constitution promises a quality education for all students, and I pledge to ensure that every Cheektowaga student receives one. I thank Maryvale Superintendent D’Angelo and the other school officials who have been working tirelessly to plan for a smooth transition of these new students since learning of them.
“While I commit to advocating for state resources so that any unexpected costs are not borne by the local districts, it is unfair to expect our state and local governments to pay the costs created by federal failures. This is a national crisis that needs a national solution. New York is just the latest in a long line of states to cry “uncle” in response to decades of federal inaction by both parties on immigration reform. Federal inaction led to this crisis; therefore, the onus is on our federal representatives to fix it. It’s time for both parties to work together to change our broken immigration system.”Assemblymember Monica P. Wallace
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.