On Friday, Scottsdale Unified School District Superintendent Scott Menzel announced that the District would be receiving a large number of Afghan refugee students. Menzel was forced to finally make public the news after staff and multiple educators, struggling to assist their current students who have suffered learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures, shared an internal message from Cherokee Elementary Principal Walter Chantler out of frustration.
Menzel has known of the enrollment plans for at least a week, and both staff and parents have questioned why they and the community at large was kept in the dark. Both groups say the District should have been more forthcoming so as to garner support from the community for the students and their families, who will surely need all the help they can get. One parent, who asked to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation, told the Arizona Daily Independent, “Not only did Menzel keep us in the dark, but his failure to treat parents and teachers as adults has just made the growing distrust in the administration that much greater.”
Menzel’s disdain for parents was evident in the message he sent out late Friday. He implied that some members of the community questioned whether the District should serve “these refugee children.” However, parents we talked to questioned whether the District, under Menzel’s failing leadership, could adequately care for students with the unique needs of children escaping a war torn region. The need for services and accommodations will be compounded by language and cultural differences as well.
Menzel began his missive advising parents that “the latest spike in COVID cases in our community and the impact that it is having on our students and staff continues to present us with challenges.” Those challenges include finding “creative ways to cover classes, provide transportation on most bus routes and maintain every opportunity for in-person learning at our 28 school campuses.”
Under the heading, “For the Record,” Menzel then finally gets to Afghan refugee resettlement:
At the end of last week, we were notified that more than 300 Afghan refugees have recently relocated to Scottsdale, resulting in our mobilizing a district team to plan for providing educational services and supports to the school-aged children. Under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, SUSD has an obligation to provide educational services to homeless students who reside within the district.
On August 19, 2021, Governor Ducey and Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers issued a statement regarding the welcoming of Afghan refugees to Arizona. In the statement, they noted: “The Arizona Office of Refugee Resettlement housed at the Arizona Department of Economic Security will work with them [the refugees] to secure housing and employment, enroll in English classes if needed, connect them with health care resources, and their children-including their daughters who would be denied an education under the Taliban-will be enrolled in school. They helped our military members in their country, and now we stand ready to help them in ours.”
Some in our community are questioning whether SUSD should be serving these refugee children. In addition to the fact that we are required by federal law to do so, it is important to reiterate two of our core values: Empathy – we welcome all with kindness, love, compassion, and joy; and Inclusion – we create an equitable environment where everyone is respected, is treated with dignity, and has a sense of belonging.
While we did not anticipate this influx of new students, we are committed to marshalling the resources and supports necessary to ensure that these children are welcomed into our schools as they transition to their new lives in this country. We would also like to thank those parents in our community who have already stepped up to offer help to these families and to our staff who stand at the ready to support our new students.
As Menzel notes, the 300 Afghan refugees are currently occupying a Scottsdale hotel. According to AZ FREE NEWS, “the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) refugees were relocated from military bases beginning January 12. The refugees won’t be confined to the hotel and may roam the community at their leisure because the law prohibits their detainment. They will reside at the hotel until they are matched with sponsor families throughout the Valley.”