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Gov. Wolf encourages schools to welcome Ukrainian refugees


Harrisburg, PA – Governor Wolf announced that the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has provided guidance to schools as they begin to welcome refugee families from Ukraine with school-age children.

“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 Wolf said. “I know the people of Pennsylvania are extraordinarily generous and welcoming, and will embrace their new neighbors. This is especially true in the commonwealth’s schools, where every day’s work is centered around the needs of children.”

PDE Secretary Noe Ortega said his staff is encouraging schools to familiarize themselves with their responsibilities under state and federal law.

“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. Ortega said.

In a letter sent to school communities, PDE reminded school districts and charter schools of their legal obligations related to enrollment and the provision of services for refugee students.

  • School districts and charter schools must ensure that they do not unlawfully discriminate against or bar students from enrollment in public school based on their citizenship or immigration status, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that children and families with limited English proficiency must be provided translation and interpretation services to the extent needed to help them understand the enrollment process and to be enrolled in school promptly.
  • A newly arriving child should be permitted to attend school on the next school day after the day on which the child is presented for enrollment, and in all cases within five business days of the school’s receipt of the required documentation.
  • Like all students, refugee children are entitled to appropriate special education services. Refugee students must be screened and identified prior to referral for a special education evaluation in accordance with state law and receive any needed special education services as any other enrolled and identified student.
  • Schools must identify English Learner (EL) students and take affirmative steps to ensure that they are provided with appropriate language assistance services to allow them to meaningfully participate in educational programs. Additionally, school districts and charter schools must communicate information to EL parents in a language they can understand.

Refugee children who are not yet of school age may also be eligible to participate in early childhood education programs to provide kindergarten readiness, facilitate childcare access and family integration, and provide holistic sessions with parents and children.

PDE will continue to collaborate with schools to ensure that the educational needs of refugee students and families are being met. Programs and services that may be offered to support refugee students by schools include, but are not limited to: supplemental EL instruction, after-school programs, parental and community outreach programs, cross-cultural activities, professional development for school personnel, and resources to develop culturally appropriate practices and build a welcoming school environment.

The governor ​also support​s legislation providing $2 million ​in state funds to provide fast, flexible support for Ukrainians fleeing conflict​ who may come to Pennsylvania.

From day one, Gov. Wolf has stood with Ukraine and will continue to do everything in his power to support ​the country and its people.

Pennsylvania is home to more than 122,000 Ukrainians, the second most of any U.S. state.

In recent years, the commonwealth has deepened business connections ​with Ukraine. With support from Pennsylvania’s Office of International Business Development under the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), businesses from Ukraine have chosen to make Pennsylvania home.

For more information about Pennsylvania’s education policies and programs please visit the Department of Education’s website or follow PDE on FacebookTwitter, or Pinterest.