Nyssa awaits state ruling on migrant ed troubles

The Nyssa School District could find out soon whether its migrant education program will remain under “high risk” as the district awaits a final review and forensic audit report of a program designed to help the children of migrant workers get an education.

Since 2022, Nyssa’s migrant education program has been under state investigation after the state identified 129 families with 277 children who were improperly enrolled. State documents also revealed that 19 past and current district employees had 58 children in the program, which allowed them to access government services they otherwise could not have received.

Among those with children inappropriately enrolled was Ryan Hawkins, the district’s superintendent. He recently apologized to state officials but has declined public comment.

His admissions were contained in documents obtained from the state Education Department through a public records request.

During a meeting with state officials, Hawkins said that while someone with the migrant program approached him about enrolling his children, he still, as an administrator, should have known better. Additionally, he said he should have investigated the eligibility criteria more closely before committing to enrolling his children, according to Don Grotting, Nyssa’s compliance officer, who was in on the meeting.

Matt Murray, Nyssa’s federal programs director, told the Nyssa School Board on Monday, June 10, that the district expects to receive a final report from the state education agency that will be a “conglomeration” of its reviews of the migrant program.

Last year, the state Education Department said it intended to recover $350,000 in federal funding from the district’s migrant program.

The state report dated April 30 said that Hawkins “took an important first step” in “reconciling the district’s past practices.”

The state also noted in its report that Nyssa’s documentation has greatly improved for money spent on as field trips, purchases and other extracurricular activities. Grotting, who the district hired on a temporary basis to help fix the issues with the district’s migrant program, said during the when Nyssa staff showed state officials what they were doing to document services, officials said, “Yes, keep doing that.”

The report said school employees and parents still don’t fully understand who is eligible to enroll in the migrant program.

According to the Oregon Department of Education Migrant Program Directors Handbook, to qualify, a family must have moved within the past three years, and the parents must be temporary or seasonal workers in agriculture.

Grotting said parents think that if they work in agriculture they qualify. That’s not the case, he said. Grotting said that for years, district employees weren’t adhering to the eligibility standards. Grotting said it has been a challenge for some who thought they were eligible to receive services, such as preschool, or an after-school program, to find out they are not.

He said the school district needs to figure out how it can provide such services to families who aren’t eligible for migrant aid.

Grotting said Nyssa’s situation is not unique and that other regions were found to have children improperly enrolled in migrant services. He said funding from the U.S. Department of Education is expected to be cut next year.

Murray said it’s unclear what that could mean for the nearly 260 children who are enrolled in Nyssa’s migrant education program, but services will likely be scaled back.

The state’s report said “transparency and honesty” was needed in the district’s management of the program.

The Education Department, however, refused to release an analysis of the Oregon Migrant Education Program, saying it was prepared by a Washington law firm. The agency said that meant the report was protected from disclosure because of the attorney-client privilege that manages federal grants and offers legal advice on grant management.

In its April report, the agency cited the work of Jesus Prado, a graduation specialist at Nyssa Middle School. Prado had been a student in the migrant program. The report said he fostered good relations with other organizations in the county, including Treasure Valley Community College.

According to the report, students in the migrant program told state officials that Prado has been instrumental in helping them.

“Jesus is always open to help them, listen to them, and work with them,” the report noted.  “He has created an environment of belonging and safety where students can feel heard and valued.”

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