March 31, 2022: Guidance in Preparation of Ukrainian Student Enrollments
The war in Ukraine has created an unprecedented number of refugees fleeing into neighboring countries. This massive influx of people—estimated at 3.7 million refugees—a has created a strain on European nations. In response, President Biden recently announced that over the next several weeks, the United States will begin welcoming up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Pennsylvania will receive some portion of these refugees, many of which may be school-age children.
In anticipation of the arrival of these children, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) provides the following information to remind all school districts and charter schools of their legal obligations related to enrollment and the provision of services for refugee students.
Federal law requires state and local agencies to provide children with equal access to public education. School districts and charter schools must ensure that they do not unlawfully discriminate against or bar students from enrollment in public school based on their citizenship or immigration status. All school-age refugee children are entitled to enrollment and education in Pennsylvania schools. (See Enrollment of Students BEC). Additionally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that children and families with limited English proficiency must be provided translation and interpretation services to the extent needed to help them understand the enrollment process and to be enrolled in school promptly.
A newly arriving child should be permitted to attend school on the next school day after the day on which the child is presented for enrollment, and in all cases within five business days of the school's receipt of the required documentation. 22 Pa. Code § 11.11(b). Refugee students may not possess all the required enrollment documentation requested. A school district or charter school should review their list of documents used to establish residency or enrollment and ensure that any requested documents would not unlawfully bar a refugee student. Also, it is important to note that some refugees may be considered "displaced" and therefore identified as homeless for the purposes of enrollment. Regardless, school districts and charter schools should ensure that each child is able to enroll in the same, appropriate education programs as their peers.
School districts and charter schools are obligated to identify, assess, and assist students to address their educational needs in a timely manner. Like all students, refugee children are entitled to appropriate special education services. Refugee students must be screened and identified prior to referral for a special education evaluation in accordance with the requirements of 22 Pa. Code Chapter 14 or 22 Pa. Code Chapter 711 and receive any needed special education services as any other enrolled and identified student.
Refugee students will likely require language services to support English proficiency to allow them to participate in school. Schools must identify English Learner (EL) students and take affirmative steps to ensure that all EL students are provided with appropriate language assistance services to allow them to meaningfully participate in educational programs. Additionally, school districts and charter schools must communicate information to EL parents in a language they can understand.
PDE will continue to collaborate with schools to ensure that the educational needs of refugee students and families are being met. Programs and services that may be offered to support refugee students by schools include, but are not limited to:
- Supplemental EL instruction
- After-school tutorials focusing on helping students understand and complete assignments
- After-school programs to foster community engagement and/or provide cultural navigation services
- Programs focused on helping families understand and integrate into the public school system
- Programs for children with limited or interrupted formal schooling focused on bridging the gap between student's experience and elements of school and curriculum that are culture-based
- Parental outreach programs that involve and engage refugee parents in their child's education
- After-school and/or summer clubs and activities that foster understanding of diverse cultures and cross-cultural activities that enrich the lives of all the children of the school and community where the family lives
- Bilingual/bicultural counselors, teachers, and teaching assistants to work exclusively with the students during general Refugee School Impact (RSI) programs and events
- Materials, resources, and staff development for supplemental grant personnel to better understand the unique needs of this population and provide services and support specific to those needs
- Outreach and diverse cultural professional development for school administrators, teachers and staff that serve the newly enrolled students and families in educational settings
- Materials and resources to develop culturally appropriate practices and build a welcoming school environment
Furthermore, non-school age refugee children may be eligible to participate in early childhood education programs. These programs facilitate childcare access and capacity development, support early childhood education, facilitate parent integration and education, and provide holistic sessions with parents and children. Early childhood programs include:
- Kindergarten readiness programs
- Summer programs for preschool students
- Assisting with Kindergarten registrations
- Partnerships with Head Start and other programs to access subsidized childcare services
- Partnerships with local family support centers
- Parent programs focused on early literacy and numeracy
- Parent support encouraging school attendance and parent engagement in the school setting
- Materials and resources including bilingual books to encourage reading in native language to build L1 literacy skills
- In-home visits
- Referral to Early Intervention, PreK Counts and/or other education agencies
- English as a Second Language (ESL) programming for preschool-age children
- Partnership development to facilitate access to quality early childhood programs and evaluation for developmental delays
PDE encourages you to obtain and participate in training, resources, and technical assistance that the Department provides regularly. We urge you to facilitate intentionality in program design and implementation to effectively address gaps, eliminate barriers, and fully meet the needs of refugee students and their families. Attached is a list of resource links for your convenience.
Thank you for your attention to this important issue. The Department welcomes the opportunity to work with all schools to ensure that refugee children who come to Pennsylvania receive the education and support to which they are entitled. To contact the Department with questions or concerns about refugee students, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.