Maine school districts set to welcome new asylum-seeker students

Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 7:14 AM EDT
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LEWISTON, Maine (WMTW) - More than 100 children of asylum-seekers will be attending schools in Lewiston, Freeport and Sanford this school year following an influx of arrivals into Maine and the moving of residents of the Portland Expo temporary shelter into hotels.

The RSU 5 school district, which encompasses Freeport, will welcome 67 migrant students, according to its superintendent. The Sanford school district will bring in 55 new migrant students, according to district officials, while Lewiston Superintendent Jake Langlais says his district will see around 20 new migrant students.

Earlier in August, the Portland Expo temporary shelter for asylum seekers closed, and the 190 migrants who were living there were bussed to hotels in Freeport and Lewiston. That number included 60 families.

Sanford has seen its own influx of asylum-seekers this year. School district officials say the biggest challenge it faces in welcoming its new students is in communicating with families and hiring extra staff to accommodate them.

“I think the first thing we’ve had to do is we’d have to think about the communication,” said Sanford Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere. “Our outreach staff has contacted families and have had in-person conversations with them, letting them know, ‘This is when school starts. This is where the bus stop is.’ We have brought on a new ESOL staff member. This week, as staff returned, we are providing all of our staff with professional development on how to instruct and how to work with these new Mainers.”

Langlais says the challenge for the Lewiston school district is the uncertainty of the hotel situation for the migrants, as Lewiston’s Ramada Inn will only host asylum seekers through Nov. 1 as it stands.

“If the students happen to be displaced because of the agreement timelines at the Ramada, we’re happy to keep them here,” Langlais said. “But I really feel for the families. I can’t imagine being placed in April in Portland and then moving in August to another city and not being sure where you’re going to be in November, especially for the students as they transition.”

RSU 5, which encompasses Freeport, is also expanding staff with a new language teacher and ed tech position being approved by its school board. Its superintendent says all 67 of its new students were enrolled by Monday’s first day of school and that their impact will be felt immediately.

“These children are a tremendous, tremendous benefit for the RSU,” said RSU 5 Superintendent Jean Skorapa. “They make our community diverse and more well-rounded.”