- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Central American children may be surging across the southwest border, but their effect is felt in school districts across the country — and nowhere more than in Alexandria, Virginia, where federal authorities this year placed 205 in a city of fewer than 150,000 people.

The children could increase the school-age population in the county by more than 1 percent, marking a significant influx of students likely to need intense help with English and other remedial education programs.

No longer just a border problem, the surge is now an issue for officials in communities throughout the country, where 126 counties or cities have at least 50 children, almost all of them school age, who have been placed with relatives or foster families within their jurisdictions.

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“It challenges us every day,” said Scott Kizner, superintendent of schools in Harrisonburg, Virginia. “A lot of these children require special services.”

With the school year gearing up, districts are grappling with the situation. One county reported that as many as half of the children from the border surge have experienced major psychological trauma, either from gang violence in their home countries or hardships such as hunger and rape during their journey to the U.S.

“We have seen kids who are traumatized by violence or being witnesses to violence,” said Patricia Chiancone, an outreach counselor at the Prince George’s County Public Schools’ international student counseling office.

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More common are educational struggles. School districts say the children lag behind in English language skills and trail their peers in core subjects.

Shelters to schools

Data released last month showed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had processed and released more than 37,000 children to sponsors in the first seven months this year. That doesn’t include several thousand other children still in shelters either run by the federal government or the 116 private or municipal facilities HHS is paying to house and care for the children.

HHS refuses to divulge those locations, though documents included in a government contract from the Homeland Security Department list 116 facilities that have been used to house children this year. Those facilities are responsible for feeding, educating and providing medical care to the youngsters.

Once the children are released to relatives or foster families, those sponsors take over responsibilities, including enrolling the children in schools.

Some locales say they barely notice the increase.

In Fairfax County, the 1,023 children placed over the first seven months of the year could account for almost half of the school district’s 2,200 new students this year. But officials said they aren’t keeping tabs.

“We are not enforcing immigration laws. That is not our function. We are educating children,” said Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman John Torre. “In our circumstance, I believe these students are being absorbed into the overall enrollment growth that we have seen for a number of years now.”

Other counties said they are being proactive.

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