NORWALK, Conn. – A large influx of immigrant children is bumping up the already burgeoning English Language Learner population at Norwalk Public Schools, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said Tuesday, calling it “a fairly unique situation.”
Every day, for the last four or five weeks, students have been registering “and these are primarily immigrant students who are arriving from primarily from Nicaragua and Guatemala, staying with families or friends in the Norwalk,” Adamowski said.
The state calculates that is costs about one-third more to educate English Language Learners, according to Adamowski.
As of Friday, NPS had 11,745 students, about 100 more than it did at the end of the last school year, Adamowski said. But the figure doesn’t include the 127 students who have enrolled but have not yet had physicals and immunizations, and it may be as many as 350 new students. There were 1,991 ELL learners at the end of school last year and if you add 150, it’s 2,141 now.
“There’s going to be implications of this for our ELL services,” he said. “Right now, we have been putting on additional sections at the high school for the students. And so far, we’ve been able to do that with Title III funds, we are going to have to make some other adjustments in budgeting and in services. … We’re projecting we’re going to be at about 19%, pushing 20%, of English Language Learners this year.”
English Language Learners were up to 16 percent of Norwalk’s school population, with 1,863 children, Adamowski said in January, calling ELL students the “fastest growing segment of our school population.” In December 2014, officials announced that there had been a jump from 1,300 ELL students in 2013-14 to 1,580 at that point.
The Board has been planning a deep dive into the ELL issue for a November workshop meeting. There are schools with 25% ELL; “that our view is, is too high ratio for any school, and it is going to require us retooling, not only our services, but some of the conditions for learning,” Adamowski said, mentioning the year-round schooling experiment being planned for Kendall Elementary School.
Kendall was 35.6% ELL in January.
Connecticut’s immigrant migration is primarily hitting Fairfield County, which gets 80% of the influx, according to Adamowski.
“With all the rhetoric of the Trump administration regarding, you know, keeping people at the border, it appears that many of these families have been sent out of the detention centers, or released from them,” Adamowski said. “They’re following their paths to families or friends in other states.”
Mayor Harry Rilling has added staff to the Health Department to accelerate the physicals and immunization process, Adamowski said.
Rilling attended the BoE meeting.
“Last week, I reached out to Congressman (Jim) Himes and spoke with him and said that it’s time for some federal assistance to deal with some of these issues,” Rilling said. “Because these young people are now in our city, we have to deal with this issue, we have to deal with it appropriately. We have to provide them adequate education, but the cost is going to go through the ceiling.”
Himes, according to Rilling, said he’d look into increasing Norwalk’s Title I funding and reported that this is happening in Stamford and “seems to be a national trend.”
Stamford Mayor David Martin wasn’t definitive but said there are about 300 new immigrant school children there, and Danbury has also seen an influx, according to Rilling.
Rilling said he is writing a letter to Himes, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), asking for assistance. “I think there’s got to some federal funding to help deal with this is not just a state issue anymore.”
Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell mentioned last year’s influx in January and speculated that there could be another wave coming.
“Last year, we had the biggest growth was between April and June,” Adamowski said, pegging that as 57 new ELL students.
Board member Julie Corbett said the Board need to think about services beyond language classes due to the trauma the new students may have experienced.
“Some students may have had zero formal schooling, so what that transition process can look like, especially in our elementary schools, where we don’t have counselors right now,” she said.
Meyer-Mitchell asked about student-based budgeting and per-pupil expenditures, wondering if there would be a special appropriation to cover costs if federal funding doesn’t come through.
“It has to cannibalize other services,” Board member Bryan Meek said.
Even a first-year teacher with benefits is $75,000 and 10 teachers equals $750,000, Board Chairman Mike Barbis said.
“We’ve already put on five additional sections at Norwalk High School,” Adamowski said. That’s $100,000 out of the reserve teacher budget but, “we will try to, you know, stay within our current budget.”
Rilling said, “I certainly feel that the city of Norwalk and the Board of Education should be meeting on a regular basis to discuss this issue, making sure we have our arms around it, making sure that we’re dealing with in the proper fashion.”