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The District 65 Board on Jan. 25 approved acceptance of a gift from two private citizens to “support the settlement of recent refugee students within the District to life in Evanston.”
Joyce Bartz, assistant superintendent of special services for the District, told the Board that there are 16 political refugees in the District – from Chad, Afghanistan, Belize, Africa, El Salvador and other countries.
“There are three agencies working with these families, and we have been delighted to have them,” she said. “The students have suffered some trauma, some tragedy that happened in their home country,” and they are considered homeless. These new students increase the English-language learning classes, she added.
The proposed gift, Ms. Bartz said, could be used to allow the children to participate in some camp or after-school activities, which could help lessen the chaos of moving to a new country.
Board member Claudia Garrison asked whether the Board has “a program that also helps homeless non-refugees and those who have experienced tragedy.”
“The homeless law is an unfunded mandate,” Ms. Bartz said.
Ms. Garrison suggested that, since the gift was designated to help refugees, a community organization might be a better done. She said she was uncomfortable because the gift was restricted to refugees, when the District already has homeless students and students who suffered tragedies and they have no specific support.
“To me, every gift that we receive is restricted in some way. Many refugee students are attending Walker School, and there’s a very dire need. We should keep the resources close to the need,” said Board member Candance Chow.
Board member Omar Brown said Ms. Garrison “is looking for ‘What’s it for? Is it to pay the rent? Is it for English-language learning?’ What’s the gift going for?”
“I’m not saying I don’t care [about refugee children],” said Ms. Garrison said, adding that she felt the District was taking on a new role.
“We have to balance these issues. … It’s very difficult to turn away a gift,” said Board President Tracy Quattrocki.
District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren said he and Ms. Bartz would look into ways to use the money to benefit refugee children in the District – perhaps with a donation to Walker School or to an English-language learning program.
The Board approved acceptance of the gift, Ms. Garrison’s being the sole “no” vote.