Five minutes before the town hall is supposed to end, a girl in a superhero shirt with perfect posture steps up to the microphone. She tells Kansas City Public Schools Supt. Mark Bedell the only reason she’s still in school is ROTC.
Then she pauses.
“I’m undocumented,” she says slowly. “My junior and senior year, they were really hard for me. I was in a CNA program, and I wasn’t aware I was supposed to have a social – ” she begins to choke up, but her friends encourage her to continue “ – and I didn’t get my (nursing) license.”
A teacher told her she couldn’t go to college, she adds.
“You can go to college,” Bedell replies.
“But it has to be in Kansas,” she interjects because to attend a state school in Missouri, she’d have to enroll as an international student. “Is there a way to make sure teachers are more informed?”
Absolutely, Bedell tells her. The district has a partnership with the Mexican Consulate, and he reiterated that KCPS welcomes undocumented students.
The student, whose name KCUR isn’t using because of her immigration status, was one of about 35 who attended a forum Wednesday morning at Northeast High School Wednesday morning.
“Lincoln has been accepting more and more students,” Monica Bates says. “Next year, I’ve heard from teachers it’s going to be the largest freshman class. We just don’t have any space.”
Bedell says he’s actually meeting with the Board of Education today to talk about what to do about overcrowding. He floated the possibility of a Lincoln Middle School.
“If you move the middle school kids over into their own building, that vacates several hundred seats,” Bedell says.
Kylee McCollum, a senior at East High School, tells Bedell some of her classmates just gave up because the attendance policy was so strict.
“Like me. I have a kid, so I miss a lot of school,” McCollum says. “The principal told my mom I wasn’t going to graduate if I missed one or two more days. I brought my attendance up, but some of the kids, they gave up. So they’re not graduating.”
Bedell tells McCollum that when it comes to attendance, it’s the state that makes the rules.
“Our job is to try to control for some of those variables that are contributing to why kids can’t come to school,” says Bedell. “You say you have a child. What are we doing to help support – I know one school we’re potentially looking at having a daycare within that school because we know the pregnancy rates are high.”
Another town hall is scheduled for KCPS employees this afternoon.
Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.