To Integrate or Separate? | by Lauren Matarazzo

Immigrant and refugee students face a tremendous amount of difficulty when it comes to starting school in the U.S. Though the concept of integration is viewed as more beneficial than the opposite of separation, it is important to ask, what actually happens to students who are integrated into public schools? There is no single narrative for this, as each student experiences the situation differently, some having an easier or harder time than others.

A recent article from local news source,, highlighted the struggle of six refugee students fighting for their education. In the article, Refugee students sue for their place in public education, writer Michael Matza highlights some of the issues these students face. Matza tells the story of 17-year-old Khadidja Issa, who, when attempting to enroll in Lancaster district public school, McCaskey, was told she was “too old” and “under-credited” to earn a diploma before aging-out at 21. The district advised her to go to Phoenix Academy, a for-profit “accelerated credit recovery school.”

The website for Phoenix Academy describes itself as a “remedial” program designed to fit every student’s needs. Other reviews comment on the “disciplinary” environment that is “one step away from a juvenile detention center”(

So why send Issa to Phoenix Academy rather than allowing her to enroll at the public school? “Get a job,” was what Issa reported the administrators advised her. A sentiment that is not uncommon when it comes to immigrant and refugee students, especially those who are older. The belief that students such as Issa would benefit more from getting a job, rather than an education is not one for administrators to decide. It seems, however, that schools and teachers are struggling to accommodate the influx of immigrant and refugee students, often using the “aging-out” process as a reason to steer these students into a job rather than a degree that may be difficult for them to obtain.

The concern of teachers and administrators are not unfounded, however, and need to be addressed seriously. For example, where is the right place for a 19-year old student reading at a fifth grade level? What impact do students at such low learning levels have on the rest of the class?

In the Education Week commentary, Immigrant children have a right to a good education, Eric Schneiderman, attorney general of New York State, tells us a lot about what we already know. Statements such as “discrimination against immigrant students is unacceptable” and “providing all children with a quality education is the foundation of the American dream” do not offer any solutions to the issues that these students face when it comes to integration.

As Tiffany discussed in her post, “Letting Refugee Children Play: a new rhetoric,” language at the top seldom matches up to what is actually happening on the ground. Of course students like Issa deserve a “quality education” without discrimination but first of all- what does that mean, and second, how can it be achieved? When it comes to immigrant and refugee education, it is important that those at the top recognize the actual struggles at the bottom and work to offer valid solutions rather than empty statements that employ a few buzzwords.


Resources Matza, Micheal. Refugee students sue for their place in public education. (2016, September 26). Schneiderman, Eric. Immigrant children have a right to a good education. (2016, March 11).

Camelot Education Website. Phoenix Academy. Phoenix Academy reviews.


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