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Ansonia Schools Worry They Can’t Afford Refugees
by Jason Bagley | May 7, 2010 1:30 am
School officials are worried they won’t be able to adequately educate a group of refugees that have arrived in Ansonia from Nepal.
At a school board meeting Wednesday, school Superintendent Carol Merlone worried about the combination of low funding and refugee students in the district.
School officials said the school district only has one English as a Second Language teacher per school. They’re worried about the ESL teachers being overwhelmed due to the arrival of the refugee students who do not speak English.
While the new students have been welcomed with open arms into the district, “We don’t want to overburden the school system,” the superintendent said. “I’m worried about children getting gypped.”
Refugee families have been arriving in the lower Valley since March. In all, about 10 families are expected to arrive by June.
Merlone’s comments came after Jeremy Marshall, a case manager with the non-profit International Institute of Connecticut, made a presentation to the school board about his organization and the arriving families.
So far, 15 people have arrived in Ansonia, Marshall said, including eight children in the school district.
Another family is expected to arrive next week.
Many of the new residents have spent 20 years confined to refugee camps. Marshall urged the board to support the new arrivals.
“[The Nepalese] are very much dependent on some institution to help them out,” he said.
He said volunteers would be on hand so the school district wouldn’t have to should the responsibility alone.
Marshall’s organization uses several sources of funding, including government grants, to support the families as they transition to a new life in the U.S.
The goal is to make the families self-sufficient within six months.
“Within one year they can have a green card,” Marshall said.
School officials wanted to know why it seems all the families are arriving in Ansonia, where the school district already faces a number of challenges, including large class sizes.
To date, no refugee students have been placed in the neighboring Derby school district.
Marshall said there is an oversight committee has strict criteria in deciding where to place refugees. Number one on the list — “Housing rates have to be low,” he said.
Representatives from Marshall’s organization told the Valley Indy in March that they were looking to place people outside major cities. The refugees assimilate better in smaller communities that have accessible public transportation.
“There is an overflow of refugees already set up in Waterbury and Bridgeport,” Marshall told the school board.
While there is another refugee family due to arrive in Ansonia next week, Marshall said it is unclear whether more families will be coming to Ansonia.
About four members of the public spoke on the refugee issue. Most of the speakers expressed concerns about the situation.
Ken Plavnicky, co-chairman of Axe the Tax, a citizen group, said the city cannot afford to absorb the refugees.
“Bringing families into Ansonia is going to cost a lot of money, why couldn’t they reach out to a more wealthy community, such as Fairfield or Darien?” he asked.
Terri Goldson, the principal of John C. Mead School, asked the school board to “have an open mind and have an open heart,” concerning the refugees.
History of Nepalese Refugees
Marshal presented the following information to members of the school board:
During the 1980s Bhutan adopted policies meant to preserve Bhutan’s cultural identity by limiting language, customs, religion and political parties. In 1988, a census was conducted to identify genuine Bhutanese. The following two years were beset by demonstrations and protests in Southern Bhutan against the said policies; leaders of the protests were jailed and the first refugees fled to India.
After treading through a narrow strip of land in India, some refugees sought shelter at the homes of relatives in Nepal, while others settled in refugee camps set up by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and other nongovernmental organizations.
There are limited opportunities in the camps and refugees can be confined for decades, like some of the families who are now in Ansonia.
I’m glad I left the close-minded Valley. Where else would the superintendent of schools use a pejorative term based on an ethnic slur in a conversation with reporters? Frankly, it is a shame that these new arrivals will be attending Ansonia public schools but not for the reasons expressed in this article.
Mr. Plavnicky is oblivious to goal of settling refugees in small towns with a low cost of living so that they can become self-supporting even while earning low incomes. Does he have any clue as to the cost of a rent in Darien??