Lawsuit Brewing Over Refugee Education in Lancaster

Jul 19, 2016


In this file image, teacher Laura Kangay, center, helps a student with his reading at Lincoln Middle School in Lancaster, Pa. The ACLU of Pennsylvania is filing a lawsuit claiming the Lancaster public school district is turning away student refugees in their late teens. (AP File Photo/Alex Brandon)

About 17,000 school-aged refugees move to the U.S. in an average year, an estimate that's a few years old and likely growing along with overall resettlement activity.

But no one is tracking how young refugees fare in school here.

Georgetown University released a study earlier this year looking at education access by students with limited English proficiency.

It focused on undocumented immigrants.

But researcher Zenandeh Booi says some trends apply to refugees; specifically, schools discouraging or denying enrollment, particularly to older children, and failing to provide translation when communicating with families.

"It could be, in some cases, a lack of resources to adequately accommodate these kids. And in some other instances, it's, essentially, they don't want these kids in their schools," Booi says. "So, to a large extent, districts are dealing with a lot in trying to accommodate these kids. But at the same time, it can't be used for a reason why you completely exclude a child from being able to access education."

Actually, federal law prohibits it. But it's happening anyway, as documented by the Georgetown study and lawsuits in multiple states.

Several school districts in New York settled related lawsuits this spring, just before another was filed in Florida.

And one Pennsylvania district looks like it's  next.

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