TUSD explores options to educate immigrant teens at Southwest Key facility

TUSD explores options to educate teens at Southwest Key facility
Published: Aug. 15, 2018 at 2:44 AM MST|Updated: Aug. 15, 2018 at 5:31 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Tucson Unified School District wants to provide educational services to the immigrant children held at a local facility.

A decision to do so, however, is out of the district leaders; hands.

"The team with Southwest Key has been very forthright, very honest with wanting a higher quality of educational services,"  TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo told the governing board Tuesday while presenting the two options that could put district teachers and services at the Southwest Key facility on Oracle Road.

Trujillo said there are currently no preschool or elementary-aged students being housed at the facility, with teens at the ninth-grade level or older. He began conversations with Southwest Key officials following requests from board members and the community last month.

The first option would be for the Tucson Unified School District to be the sole educational provider for the facility. That comes with legal challenges, with the district needing to determine who is considered the guardian of those being housed at the facility.

Trujillo said the immigrant children could fall under the McKinney-Vento Act, which handles the rights of homeless children, or the guardian could be  Southwest Key or the Office of Refuge Resettlement, which funds the facility.

If those children are eligible, TUSD could receive funding from the Arizona Department of Education to provide educational services, hire teachers and transport the children to school.

"Southwest Key is being funded by the Homeland Security, but I think we consider the breath of services they will need is really significant," said board member Adelita Grijalva.

The second avenue, if the first option is not available, would be for Southwest Key to become "paying tenants" and rent the facilities and services from TUSD.

Trujillo said two locations that could be used would be the old Howenstine High School off Tucson Boulevard or vacant rooms at the Wakefield Family Resource Center.

Southwest Key would be responsible for preparing those facilities, paying the rent and for any services by teachers or staff.

Despite no decision form the board, community members still urged leaders to push through with a plan.

"We need to stand up together, and say 'nom we are going to do this and here is the plan,'" one woman said to the board. "Not sit here and say, well we tried.  We don't do that in this city. This is Tucson, this is my home, and I'm telling you we can not just let them do this to these children."

Trujillo said officials at the local facility will present the option to the Southwest Key's national governing board, which could then possibly discuss more with the Office of Refuge Resettlement.

According to the Office of Refuge Resettlement, educational services are based on the individual academic level of each child at the facility. Each child must receive at least six hours of structured education in basic academic areas per weekday.

It will be up to the Office of Refuge Resettlement and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to determine if they would like to move forward with TUSD's services. Trujillo said he will present those findings to the governing board as soon as he receives an answer.

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