State Takeover of 25 Public Schools Harmful to Immigrants and Refugees


The New York State Education Department (NYSED) has now taken over 25 Buffalo public schools. These include BEST, Bilingual Center, Frank Sedita, Herman Badillo, Lafayette, Riverside and Waterfront. At these seven schools, more than 30% of their students are English Language Learners (ELL), meaning they are refugees or new immigrants. Some schools have more than 50% ELL students, with Lafayette having 70%.

Although the 25 schools are no longer under the control of the elected Buffalo School Board, the Board is responsible for operating the schools. For decision making about educational issues, the State Education Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia now decides.

Dr. Cash, the new superintendent, makes local decisions, but only with Elia’s approval. Great power is being concentrated in the hands of these two individuals, who are not elected.

For the 25 schools involved, Dr. Cash has power over the school budget, replacing and imposing curriculum and programs, student discipline, testing, class size, teaching conditions, increasing the school day and year, and more. Each school could have different hours and programs than they currently do. This will be confusing and especially difficult for parents, who are also learning English, to contend with.

Dr. Cash can also fire, without cause, all the teachers and staff at any of the 25 schools. While people can re-apply for their jobs, Cash only has to hire back 50%.

The law prevents the other 50% from working in the other Buffalo public schools. This means that many of the most experienced and talented teachers and staff, including those of color, could be forced out of the schools.

Dr. Cash has not said if he will use this power, which is causing great anxiety. Fear of losing their teachers, and also actually losing them, is especially difficult for refugees and new immigrants, students and parents alike. These students are among those most in need of a calm, stable and consistent school staff. State takeover is imposing the opposite.

It is also the case that Dr. Cash can turn the schools into private charter schools. Many charter schools are known for not accepting ELL students. This possibility too, is causing concern and uncertainty.

The state used their state test scores to call these 25 schools “failures,” and will use state tests to keep them under state control. This is very unfair to the schools with large refugee and new immigrant populations, as students are forced to take the tests in English.

The state tests cannot show the quality of education, or the quality of the students and teachers, but they are being used to control and harm students, teachers and parents. State takeover hides the efforts by many to improve schools like Lafayette and Waterfront, where students, parents and teachers are defending the equal right to education.   

Many people in Buffalo think the state takeover is undemocratic and unjust. Their solution is public control, where parents have a greater role and work together with teachers and students to decide.

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