Local school boards seconded to help with incoming migrants from Haiti

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Tents go up in Cornwall

CORNWALL — Local school boards are being primed to assist with an influx of Haitian migrants arriving in Cornwall after illegally crossing into Quebec over the land border by foot this summer.

No requests have been made of the four local school boards just yet, the Upper Canada District School Board says in a press release issued yesterday. The UCDSB acknowledges that it and the other boards were contacted by Ministry of Education officials last Thursday for “an information update only” advising them of joint federal and provincial contingency plans “in the event there is an increased need to lodge refugee claimants during the initial immigration screening process.”

Around 300 Haitians are currently housed in a 500-person tent emplacement the federal government has erected on the grounds of Cornwall’s NAV Centre, according to the CBC, as temporary facilities in Quebec overflow beyond capacity.

Canada has seen a surge of U.S.-resident Haitian refugee claimants walking over the border this summer, with a reported 3,100 in July alone. Many have been living in the U.S. under an American humanitarian policy that sheltered them after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Fearing the Trump administration will revoke their “temporary protected status” and deport them back to their island nation, the Haitians have been drawn to Canada by false social media rumours that this country will automatically accept their refugee claims. However, Canada rejected almost half of Haitian refugee claimants last year, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has warned potential arrivals that they won’t be permitted to jump the queue.

“Our school district is prepared to engage requests from the province to assist with this situation,” says UCDSB Board Chair Jeff McMillan. “We had direct experience in supporting our schools and school communities who were preparing to receive Syrian refugees during 2015-2016 and we will apply our understanding from that experience to assist any families who are new to Canada and who want to enrol their children at any of our local schools. It is the least that we can do, having heard of the trying experiences of these families to find a safe place to call home.”

UCDSB Director of Education Stephen Sliwa says “a wide range of considerations” are part of the contingency planning. “We are assessing where we may need to shift and share resources at different schools’ sites should we receive a request for providing additional educational programs and services,” said Sliwa. “We are also confirming how we can best support any individuals / families who clear the refugee screening process, then are admitted to Canada, and who decide to reside in Cornwall or the surrounding areas.”

According to media accounts, while they await a ruling on their status, the refugee claimants may reside anywhere in Canada and have access public health care, education and social assistance.

Sliwa indicated that factors such as the temporary support for community integration, language interpretation and translation services, and school-based program delivery for children and youth (K to 12) are all areas where the UCDSB has the ability to support newcomers.

The UCDSB has assured the Ministry of Education “that the province can count on the cooperation of their school board during this time of need.”

All school boards in the region are expecting periodic updates once there are further developments, according to Sliwa. “We will remain in contact with provincial officials to plan accordingly and are wanting to do our share to support others in need. At times like this, it is about doing the right thing as an organization of caring people, who seek to attend to best interest of all children and their families.”

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