Education News

Feds Tour Houston School to Shelter Immigrant Children

It’s not clear how many immigrant children could be housed there.

Tuesday Federal authorities toured Terrell Middle School, a vacant Houston campus, as a potential shelter for immigrant children. The campus was closed as a neighborhood school in 2001 and has a for sale sign in front.

It’s been more than ten years since students attended Terrell Middle School in northeast Houston. It has a for sale sign out front.

But now it might reopen as a shelter for immigrant children.

Federal authorities toured the school Tuesday as they scramble to find places to house the huge number of Central American migrant children.

“They are children that are crying. They are children without their families. They are children,” said U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat.

She helped connect federal authorities and the Houston Independent School District to consider the vacant campus as a temporary shelter.

Officials with the Department of Health and Human Services and alos the General Services Administration toured the campus with HISD leaders and the congresswoman.

Jackson Lee says it’s only a preliminary step and that federal authorities may be exploring other sites in Houston as well.

“There has been no commitment, no confirmation. There has been a generous willingness on the part of the Houston Independent School District.”

Jackson Lee recently asked HISD Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones about facilities.

Federal authorities, school leaders and elected officials gather outside Terrell Middle School to tour the campus as a potential shelter. As a school the campus could serve 800 kids. It’s not clear how many migrant children it could house.

Skillern-Jones says her answer was easy.

“As soon as she called, all I could think was, ‘Yes, Suffer the little children, they come unto me.’ And as a mother and a Christian, the only answer for me to give I could give her was, ‘Yes, I’ll call our administration and see what we can do,'” she recounted.

What they came up with was this vacant campus, Terrell Middle School.

It was built in 1966 and stands on 14 and a half acres. As a middle school, it could serve 800 kids.

The two-story brick building still has murals painted on the side with the words “teamwork” and “responsibility.”

It also has a chain-link fence — which is one reason why the feds are drawn to it as a shelter.

But some neighbors don’t want immigrant children there.

Bernadette Lancelin has lived in the Trinity Gardens neighborhood for more than 50 years. She saw her alma mater close down and her grandchildren attend other schools.

“Now all of a sudden these illegal immigrants don’t have nowhere to go. So y’all are going to come over here to our neighborhood, open the school up for them? Really? Is that right? Does anybody think that’s right? It’s not right!”

But others say it is the right thing to do.  Steven Flores grew up in the neighborhood four blocks away.

“Let’s be humane to them whether it’s here or somewhere else. Let’s show the world what kind of people we are.”

If the federal authorities do pick this school as a shelter, they would lease it from the district and operate it.

If that happens, it’s not clear how many immigrant children would come or how long they would stay.

After touring the campus with federal officials, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee explains to reporters that there is no decision yet if the school will shelter kids and if so, how many or for how long.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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