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Wolf Administration begins to prepare schools for Ukrainian refugee students

With millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing for safety, Pennsylvania officials are expecting an influx of school-aged children to arrive.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — As millions of people continue to free Ukraine, Pennsylvania education officials are making efforts to welcome refugee students to school here in the Commonwealth.

“We have all watched with tremendous sadness as Ukrainians endured horrific and unprovoked attacks on their homeland. Now, we will have opportunities to ease the tragic after-effects of that horror for some of the youngest Ukrainian refugees,” Governor Tom Wolf said.  

Governor Wolf announced last week that the Pennsylvania Department of Education has provided guidance to schools as they begin to accept refugee families from Ukraine with school-age children. 

“In anticipation of an influx of Ukrainian families coming to Pennsylvania over the coming weeks, it is imperative that our school communities are prepared to provide high-quality education services to new students in a seamless and efficient manner,” Dr. Noe Ortega, Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary said.

The department has reminded schools of the right of refugee children to have appropriate special education services and that schools must take appropriate measures to provide appropriate language assistance services to newly accepted students, among other measures.

Organizations say they are here to assist schools across the Commonwealth in the process but add that this is not something that is entirely new.

"We've had refugees come to Pennsylvania over and over through different conflicts, [and] through different issues around the world, so our public schools are actually kind of used it by now," said John Callahan, chief advocacy officer of the Pennsylvania School Board Association.

School districts have echoed the same sentiment as the Dover Area School District and School District of Lancaster both told FOX43 in statements:

"As the Dover Area School District, we will continue business as normal. We have faced similar situations caused by natural disasters, and we have welcomed those displaced families with open arms. We would not do anything different in this case," said Brad Perkins, director of Public Safety, Public Relations, and Child Accounting for the district.

“The School District of Lancaster is proud to welcome refugees from all over the world, who enrich our schools and community. We have not welcomed new students from Ukraine yet; however, when they do arrive, we will have many supports in place for them and their families, including our strong partnership with the Refugee Center at Reynolds Middle School. As always, our welcoming community will embrace the children from Ukraine to ensure they have a successful transition," said Kelly Burkholder, coordinator of community relations for the School District of Lancaster.

Callahan says schools are equipped to offer services in language, individual education plan services, tutoring, and even go the extra mile of aiding students after hours.

"Even after-school programs - How do you get a student to kind of start to work within the school community and really be a part of the community and learn from not just the academic things, but also all the other things that go on in a school that help a child build socially and emotionally?," Callahan pondered.

Two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 1176, sponsored by Democratic State Senator Lindsey Williams of Allegheny County, and House Bill 2380, sponsored by Democratic State Representatives Rob Matzie, of Beaver and Allegheny Counties and Kevin Boyle of Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties, are seeking to allocate $2 million in state funds to aid Ukraninans fleeing conflict who may seek to come to Pennsylvania. 

Governor Wolf has said he will support these bills.

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