Nearly 50 unaccompanied minors from Central America have been sent to Montgomery County Public Schools since July to attend classes this school year, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said Thursday.
The 47 children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were directed to the county school system through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, Starr said at the county school board’s Thursday meeting.
“We don’t know if the number’s going to go up,” he said.
Last school year, the refugee resettlement office sent 107 unaccompanied children to the school system. Most of the minors were high school students, Starr said.
Starr said system officials are aware that minors from Central America are also entering county schools through avenues other than the refugee resettlement office, such as through their families. He said school officials discussed the issue during the summer.
The issue goes beyond the school system for the county. Montgomery County Council members met with representatives from public agencies and nonprofits in late July to learn about the situation in Montgomery regarding the immigrant children in its communities.
From October 2013 through July 2014, there were about 63,000 apprehensions of unaccompanied children at the country’s southwest border, according to data on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
Unaccompanied immigrant children often come across the border to escape violence, abuse or persecution in their home countries, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. Other children come to live with relatives or are taken into the U.S. by human trafficking rings.
Starr said Thursday that the school system has “a legal, and more importantly, moral obligation” to serve the children sent its way.
The system is determining the students’ educational and social-emotional needs and working to address the situation with others, such as the county and nonprofits, he said.
School board Vice President Patricia O’Neill said at the meeting that, in her experiences talking with county residents, “a lot of people have been very concerned” about the unaccompanied children in county schools. They have asked her questions about matters such as the children’s impact on the school system and how the system is addressing their needs, she said.
O’Neill said she has asked that a July 24 memo Starr sent to school board members about the issue be posted for the public to see.
Board member Christopher S. Barclay described the issue of the unaccompanied minors leaving their home countries due to violence as “rather important and one that is pertinent to all of us.”