UCDSB adapts to migrant influx

BROCKVILLE – An influx of students due to asylum-seekers being housed in Cornwall has seen additional students for the Upper Canada District School Board.

A report to board trustees presented March 8 outlined how the UCDSB added resources and staff to support more than 60 new students in its schools, and set up separate classrooms at two housing sites in Cornwall.

Since 2022, the Dev Centre (formerly known as the NAV Centre or NavCan) has housed over 400 migrants including asylum seekers who have crossed through the illegal border crossing at Roxham Road in Quebec. In early 2023, the Ramada Inn was purchased by a contractor for the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, to house additional migrants. At the time the department came under fire for the strain placed on local resources in Cornwall, and the lack of communication from the federal government.

The UCDSB has taken the lead in supporting students housed at the two facilities, and establishing adult language supports.

Director of Education Ron Ferguson explained that the influx of students and adults was rapidly changing.

“This very quickly became a crisis for us,” he said. “It became a situation where we needed to get our heads around this.”

The board is providing English language assessments for adults through its TR Leger School of Adult, Alternative and Continuing Education.

Sixty-six students are enroled in UCDSB mainstream schools (elementary and secondary) and two classrooms have been set up at the Dev Centre for students whose English is not yet at a level to attend a mainstream school. As of March 8, there were 34 students at the Dev Centre, with another 33 enroled from the former Ramada Inn facility.

Many of the migrants are from Central and South America and speak little or no English. TR Leger has three classes with 180 adults registered at the Dev Centre, with a growing wait list, for learning English. More than 400 language assessments have been completed since last fall, 90 of which were completed in the first two months of 2023.

Superintendent Chad Brownlee detailed to the board how the UCDSB is set up to handle the increased students and programming through the end of the 2022-23 school year in June. He added that the board is awaiting word from the IRCC if the programming is needed past the end of June.

To pay for the extra services provided, Ferguson said the current budget has room to fund the service.

Since the fall, six staff were approved for the new classes established at the Dev Centre.

“We are working with MPP Nolan Quinn to continue funding through the Ministry [of Education] should the program continue into the next school year,” he said.

Board chair John McAllister said the board is doing “great work under very unusual circumstances.”

He added that he appreciated everything being done by staff to assist.

“Not only that we are fufilling our mission and our value statements in spades.”

Trustee David McDonald, who represents Cornwall on the board, was critical of the federal government for the lack of communication and planning ahead.

“I hope we are part of those conversations and that the government is providing some more insight about when and how many more numbers,” he said. “You can see how we’ve managed to move forward to handle this.”

The bulk of the 39,000 refugees and illegal migrants that entered Canada via Roxham Road remain in Quebec. Cornwall is one of three cities in Ontario where border crossers have been relocated – Niagara Falls and Windsor are the other two cities.

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Morrisburg Leader