Denver Public School employees lack resources, direction to accommodate migrant students


Denver Public School officials are struggling to accommodate migrant students and said they lacked necessary support from the city government to do so, according to emails reviewed by Parents Defending Education.  

Denver city and county government officials discussed coordinating clothing drives, legal services, housing, vaccination clinics, and other resources for the thousands of migrant families moving in and out of city shelters in the emails.

One teacher said his school is “scrambling” to find additional “Spanish speaking support staff” as they accommodate migrant students and families, including those “arriving from Venezuela and Colombia,” in an email Parents Defending Education reviewed. “When there is a significant change in the amount of students or the composition of students needs, there can be a staffing imbalance that is hard to correct,” the teacher said. “For example, we are scrambling to find more Spanish speaking support staff because we were previously staffed to help more Arabic speakers.” 

Another teacher, concerned about housing needs for her students, said she struggles to sleep at night knowing that some of her migrant students are homeless.  

A local immigration attorney claimed she’s heard from several school officials who feel as if they are not receiving necessary support to accommodate migrant students and their families.  

“We desperately need to have shelter based & possibly school based presentations covering legal, refugee resettlement basics and where to get basic services. I’ve heard from at least 4 different school officials asking for help and/or feeling like they aren’t getting any support/communication from the city. I would love to be a part of giving legal presentations and I’m pretty sure I could get someone to do the refugee resettlement piece. Is there any way that some funds could be found for that purpose?” 

Denver Public Schools needed additional support for student behavior and disciplinary issues. Megan Ives, a policy aid in the city council’s office, asked Atim Otii, the director of Denver’s Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Office, in a November 2023 email to ask for “a deep expert on Latin America and Venezuela” that could potentially assist Denver Public Schools officials who discussed “recent conflicts between migrants from different nationalities where tensions are occurring.”

An email from a local business owner discussed potentially housing migrant families in unused school buildings and on local fairgrounds: “The City of Denver does not have to purchase these schools… Schools need money to operate the schools that are still open so let’s rent these schools from our school district to start the first stage of integration for these refugees. The schools have rooms that can accommodate people to stay in… They can’t go back, and we need to help them!”

Local hotels have also housed migrant families, the emails show.  

A January 2024 hiring fair for migrant families listed Denver Public Schools as a participant, according to emails from Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s Office of New Americans.

Federal law, including the Every Student Succeeds Act, requires school districts to teach migrant students. Denver Public Schools faces a $17.5 million budget deficit as it tries to teach thousands of migrant students who entered the district during the middle of the school year. According to the Denver Post, the district enrolled 1,600 additional migrant students from October, which was the deadline for districts to submit head counts to the state for funding, and January.