April 08. 2013 10:55PM

Nashua school superintendent welcomes refugees

Union Leader Correspondent

NASHUA - The Board of Education discussed the possibility that some of the 50 refugees from Bhutan, Iraq and Burma that will soon be settled in Nashua will include children who will need to be integrated into the school district.

Superintendent Mark Conrad informed the board that while he has not received any information as to how many refugees are children who will become Nashua School District students, it would be prudent to start planning for their arrival. Conrad, who called the imminent arrival of the refugees a positive thing, said the district would work with the community organizations that are helping settle the refugees into the city to ensure the refugees' transition is as smooth as it can be.

Board member Dennis Ryder asked Conrad on what authority do nongovernment groups have in allowing the refugees to settle in Nashua, to which Conrad responded that since the refugees have already been granted refugee status by the federal government, they are free to settle where they choose.

Board member Sandra Ziehm said she asked the same question Ryder did many years ago and was told that if Nashua were to contest the refugees settlement, the federal government would threaten to withhold federal money from the city.

"They hold the carrot over our heads to get us to agree to this," Ziehm said.

Board member Elizabeth Von Twuyver asked Conrad whether the refugees who are soon to become Nashua students would be required to learn English before being allowed to attend class. Conrad responded that they wouldn't, but that under state law all instruction must be given in English.

"Nashua hasn't received many refugees through the years. Most have been located in Manchester. Even the Laconia School District has more refugee students than we do. While I am not sure why Nashua was selected, it was only a matter of time until we were," Conrad said.

Despite concern from some on the Board of Education, Conrad said the positives of integrating refugees from halfway across the world will far outweigh any negatives.

"They have amazing stories of survival," Conrad said. "They can bring wonderful dimensions into a classroom. This is part of the diversity of our community. This will not be overwhelming for us."