After an immigrant child from Israel was denied a spot in a local elementary school, New Haven Public Schools administrators have been working to repair the district’s image as a haven for multiculturalism.
This past fall, Mickey Franford, 9, was not allowed to attend public school for several months due to an issue with his special visitors’ visa. Although New Haven public schools are required to educate the children of illegal immigrants, Franford’s legal visa proved problematic.
After a period of dispute, Franford was allowed to go to school though the legal issues persisted.
In the Franford case, the problem arose because of a paradox in Connecticut state law: while children of illegal immigrants are given the right to public education, students here with visitors’ permits are not. Instead, they are supposed to get special students’ visas, but this law is rarely enforced. In Franford’s case, it was.
But East Rock Magnet School principal Salvatore Punzo, head of one of the most geographically-diverse elementary schools in the city, said the Franford case was probably an isolated incident that did not reflect upon the overall character of the district.
“International kids bring diversity to the school and a positive atmosphere for learning,” Punzo said. “I have never encountered a problem with someone being denied admission.”
Kirk Hughes ’84 DIV ’90, Parent Teacher Organization president for Worthington Hooker School, said he, too, could not recall a single instance of a child being denied admission to school because of a visa problem.
“Sometimes children are denied visas, but that is only because [Worthington Hooker] gets too many applicants to be able to take them all,” Hughes said.
Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo could not be reached for comment.
Hughes said many schools have in fact been quite attentive to the needs of international children either here illegally or with special visas despite the fact that they do not receive tax dollars from their families.
“When you think about it, the district has been very generous,” Hughes said. “The [English as a Second Language] program is very expensive.”
The character of the Worthington Hooker School district is so international largely because a great number of Yale graduate students — a very diverse population — live and raise children there, Hughes said. The district’s boundaries stretch from the east side of Prospect Street to Orange Street, he said.
Punzo added that in his school, where 26 countries are represented in the student body and nearly 30 languages are spoken, the native students are curious about foreign customs and learn a lot from them.
“They want to know what their schools were like, what kinds of food they ate, what those head coverings mean,” Punzo said. “They and their families have a great deal of support from the school.”
One example of local public schools’ acceptance of other cultures is the annual outdoor art celebration scheduled for this Thursday at Worthington Hooker School.
“What they’ve done is, they’ve made a real celebration of international identity,” Hughes said.