Policy change bid for foreign students

Published 10:50 pm Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The local area coordinator of a foreign exchange program has called for a policy change to help international students on a particular visa transfer to Suffolk Public Schools later in the instructional year than currently permitted.

Cindy Fegley, with Foreign Links Around the Globe (FLAG), addressed last week’s School Board meeting on the issue, calling for a change to the Aug. 15 deadline on enrollment applications for foreign students on J-1 visas, which the State Department issues for cultural and educational exchange.

“It’s not my intention to ruffle feathers,” Fegley said after the meeting. “I’m just trying to look at what’s the most advantageous for everybody.”

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Fegley says she has recently lodged two special requests for the transfer of foreign students after the cutoff.

“The first person says ‘No, go to the assistant superintendent,’” Fegley said. “You go up the chain of command, and the reality is nobody in that chain, until you get to the Pupil-Personnel Committee, has the authority to override School Board policy.

“It’s waste of everyone’s time to say go talk to somebody who can’t help you.”

Last year, Fegley said, her family hosted a student after his original host mom experienced a miscarriage and fell into depression, not long after he arrived in the United States.

“She basically took it out — a lot — on him, to the point she kicked him out,” Fegley said. The Portsmouth woman left the Russian boy’s belongings in garbage bags on the front porch, leaving him in limbo, Fegley said.

After taking him in, Fegley said, she went through the transfer process with Suffolk Public Schools during December 2012 and early January 2013.

“During this time he was not attending school,” she said, adding she was unable to transport him to and from Portsmouth every day.

After being admitted as a senior at Nansemond River High, the boy set school swim records and was considered an honor student at the end of the school year, Fegley said.

She said she is currently hosting another boy, from Germany, who transferred after Aug. 15 from Michigan, where he had lived with a family prepared to take him in temporarily while a permanent host was found.

“By the middle of October, they still hadn’t found anybody,” Fegley said. “I was willing to bring him home, and, of course, I had to again go through the process.”

The boy is settling in as a Nansemond River senior, she said. “He’s getting there; he’s still learning the ins and outs of the school and the programs, but he’s attempting to be on the wrestling team and make friends that way.”

District Superintendent Deran Whitney told last week’s meeting the issue would be investigated.

Fegley said, “I’m proposing that they come up with an amendment to the policy that takes into consideration there are any number of reasons that a student who is already in the States and attending school in another school district, whether in Virginia or Michigan, would want to transfer to Suffolk, and allow them to transfer, as long as they meet all the other criteria.”

Fegley said her family has hosted seven foreign students, including two currently, since hosting its first in 2011.