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Texas School District To Send Teachers To Shelters For Migrant Children


Southwest Key, the largest contractor that operates shelters for migrant families, has agreed to allow two school districts to bring in teachers and other resources for migrant children, including unaccompanied minors and those who have been separated from their family at the border. One of those school districts is in San Benito, Texas, near the U.S.-Mexican border. Michael Vargas is president of San Benito school board, and he joins us now. Mr. Vargas, thanks for being with us.

MICHAEL VARGAS: It's definitely a pleasure to be on. Thanks a lot, Scott.

SIMON: What kind of resources and personnel will you provide?

VARGAS: So we are sending 19 fully certified bilingual teachers and 570 Chromebooks and iPads to make sure that students in those shelters are getting the exact education that traditionally situated students are getting here in the San Benito school district.

SIMON: How do you provide that exact education when a lot of these youngsters have been through very traumatic experiences?

VARGAS: Our school district actually is not foreign to these types of students. We actually have a middle school that faces the border wall along the Rio Grande River. So we're fortunate enough to have that background as we seek partnership with Southwest Key - as we face more of those students, about 480 students to be exact.

SIMON: I'm sure I don't have to tell you, Mr. Vargas. Southwest Key has been accused of some things - sexual abuse and harassment allegations at several shelters that they operate. Does this concern you? Have you been inside the shelters?

VARGAS: I have been. We toured the facility once. I think for us we're just - we're operating within our locus of control. Our main priority is to educate the students and to make sure that they're getting the outstanding education that they deserve.

SIMON: Mr. Vargas, it's my understanding that your commitment of resources has not been universally popular in your community.

VARGAS: It has not. I think that's an appropriate term. And I think a lot of that happened in the beginning because there was just a lot of misinformation about our agreements because, at the end of the day, their perspective is we are siphoning off resources from our current students in order to, quote, unquote, "teach these students." And so we wanted to make sure and assure our community that that is not happening. Any resources that we're providing to Southwest Key is actually coming through other district resources and is indeed not taken away from current students.

SIMON: How do you answer the reservations of people who say - look - you're just encouraging families to undertake a dangerous journey across the border because if their children wind up on the U.S. side, they're going to get an education?

VARGAS: It is our moral obligation, our legal obligation. That's the only lens I'm looking through.

SIMON: Explain that legal obligation to me, if you could.

VARGAS: Right. So under the Texas Education Code, anybody lying within our jurisdictional boundaries and if they reside within a residential facility located in the district, then we as a district are obligated to provide services - educational services to them. So that's exactly what we're...

SIMON: Regardless of their legal status.

VARGAS: Regardless of legal status, yes.

SIMON: And have you been able to speak with any of the youngsters?

VARGAS: The first day of school is on Monday the 27. So I do - I look forward to that opportunity to seeing some of our kiddos.

SIMON: Do you have some concern that this might become semi-permanent?

VARGAS: I haven't actually thought about that. As long as any student lies within these facilities, we'll continue to do our part - our legal part if you will.

SIMON: Michael Vargas is president of the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District in Texas. Thanks so much for being with us.

VARGAS: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALTER MARTIN'S "ME AND MCALEVEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.