‘Some Speak Mayan’: Illegal Kids Swamp Public Schools

Leo Hohmann, WND, August 14, 2014

Imagine trying to educate a student who cannot speak English or any of the common Spanish dialects, has never spent a day in school in his life and is now well into his teens.

As school starts in districts around the country, this is precisely the task many teachers will face as thousands of unaccompanied alien children from Central America show up for class.

At Hall County Schools about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, 35 Central American students have enrolled so far and another 15 or so are expected this week, school officials told WND. Some will need expensive interpreters for obscure dialects, if they can even be found.

“There are 21 dialects of Spanish, all so different,” said Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teachers and learning at Hall County Schools.

And some of the Central American children are arriving from remote villages that speak only in Mayan, which is not one language but a family of more than 20 ancient tribal tongues.

“Some speak Mayan, and so the problem we’re having is we have about a third of our student population is Hispanic to begin with and some of the individuals we have we’re unable to converse with because they don’t know Spanish, and of course not English, so we’re having difficulty communicating,” Barron said.

Barron said she only knows of one translator capable of working through all the various Mayan dialects and he’s in Florida.

“We are trying to see if he can Skype with us and answer questions for us that we can’t find answers to about these children,” she said. “When were you last in school? How many years have you been in school? Some of them they’re not producing that refugee resettlement form that shows proof to us that they did enter through that southwestern border and were actually processed there. That is important because it means they had their immunizations and a health screening.”

Making matters worse is the fact that the children coming from remote regions of Central America not only speak obscure languages, they also have little or no previous schooling.

“We have a 14-year-old girl right now at one of our middle schools and a 16-year-old young man registered yesterday at one of our high schools and their forms indicated they have never been to school in their lives,” Barron said. “We’re trying to decide how many of these we need to pull together and do in-depth assessments and determine if they have been taught anything by anybody regardless of age. Is there anything we can offer this child at the high-school level? You can’t very well put a 16 year old in kindergarten.”

That means schools have to create a special independent lesson plan, which is also very expensive.

“You have to come up with an IEP, or individualized educational plan, which is like what you do with special-education students,” Barron said. “That’s what you do unless we find two or three at the same level, and then you can combine resources.”

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Most South Carolina schools won’t open until later this month, but Gov. Nikki Haley has been frustrated in her attempts to get information from the federal government on how many Central American children will be dumped on her state.

It’s hard to plan for what you don’t know, such as whether the state’s schools will be getting any of the 350 illegal-immigrant children sent there from the border. The federal government won’t say who the children are, how old they are, who they’re staying with or where they are, citing privacy laws.

Haley said she can’t even get a vague idea from Homeland Security of where the children are being housed.

“[T]he question I gave Secretary Johnson was, ‘Can you at least give us the area so we can prepare these schools and prepare everyone?’ And he said no,” she told WSPA-TV in Columbia.

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