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No plans for Afghan evacuees in Westfield

Denise Ruszala, director of assessment and accountability for Westfield Public Schools. (FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD — During a quarterly meeting Oct. 15 with resettlement organizations and other agencies that work with refugees and new resident populations, Denise Ruszala, who runs the English language learners program in Westfield Public Schools, said there is no information yet on new arrivals in Westfield.

The group was discussing recent evacuees from Afghanistan who have or will be arriving in the United States. Ruszala said Massachusetts is slated to host 20,000 to 40,000 Afghans, but only about 300 are coming to the Springfield and Pittsfield area, and there is no word whether any will come to Westfield.

Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services and Ascentria are all helping in the resettlement effort, and will be placing the families who currently are projected to go to Springfield, Pittsfield and Framingham. Ruszala said these are all projections, as the families have not yet arrived, and are getting their paperwork processed, along with receiving required vaccinations, such as shots for measles, mumps and rubella. On Friday’s call, she learned that COVID-19 vaccinations are being offered, but are not required.

“COVID [vaccinations are] not mandated, but encouraged. Afghans are regularly tested, but are not 100 percent fully vaccinated,” Ruszala said, adding that there is a lot of worry about letting unvaccinated people in.

“I do not know if Westfield is going to get any evacuees,” Ruszala said. She said some may be placed in hotels in the city before putting them in permanent housing. “We don’t have housing. If they don’t have shelter, where are they going to find a place to live.”

She said Westfield is still taking people in from Ukraine, Iraq and Moldova, who are largely coming here due to family ties.

“I think we’re going to get those refugees more,” she said, adding that Springfield is also receiving people from Haiti and the Congo.

Ruszala said of the English language learners in Westfield schools currently number 260, over half of whom are Russian, followed by small numbers of Spanish-, Nepali- and Arabic-speaking individuals, and smaller groups from other locations. She said she is hoping to restart the English Language Parent Advisory Group (ELPAC), which she initiated just before the pandemic.

She is also planning a Parent’s Academy, which will offer parent engagement activities focused around literacy, and how parents can support their children with reading and writing. She said helping their children will also help parents who may be struggling with the language themselves. Currently there are no ESL (English as a Second Language) classes for adults offered in Westfield.

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