Foreign-Exchange Snafus Tied to Growth in Host Groups

By Kirsten Goldberg — September 30, 1987 5 min read

Emmanuel Mandry and Asbjorn Sjorensen came to the United States this month hoping for an interesting educational and cultural experience for one year of high school.

So far, the two exchange students have gotten instead a crash course in American government.

Problems for the two began when their original Atlanta, Ga., host families said at the last minute that they could not take them, and they ended up with families in Cobb County, an Atlanta suburb.

When they tried to register for classes at the county’s Lassiter High School--Emmanuel in the 10th grade and Asbjorn in the 11th--the youths were told they were too late. The county admits only 20 foreign exchange students a year and the two were numbers 21 and 22.

After appeals to the local school board and superintendent were unsuccessful, the families hosting the students decided to take the school district to court--and won.

U.S. District Judge G. Ernest Tidwell granted the students’ request for an injunction to force the school district to allow them to attend school. At a hearing next month, the judge will consider the families’ claim that the quota is unconstitutional.

“We tried to convince [the school district that] maybe two students more is nothing,” said Emmanuel, a 15-year-old from France. “I thought I would have to find another family.”

Asbjorn, 16, would have had to go back to Denmark on orders from his parents if the ruling had been unfavorable. The students began classes last week.

Flood of Complaints

The case of Emmanuel and Asbjorn is not unusual, although their lawsuit brought them considerably more attention than other exchange students in similar situations.

A suburban Philadelphia school board, for example, in August rejected for academic reasons a Spanish exchange student who had already arrived in the area. (See Education Week, Sept. 23, 1987.)

This year, more groups than ever are organizing exchanges and more students are participating, said Douglas W. Hunt, associate executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

“We are finding more problems, such as foreign youngsters arriving at a high school on the first day of school and no one in the school had ever heard of the student,” Mr. Hunt said. “Already this school year, we’ve had a flood of complaints from schools.”

The association this week re-issued a booklet it began producing three years ago listing the exchange programs that an advisory council found met minimum standards. The association is sending the booklet to every high-school principal and superintendent in the country.

The booklet, “Advisory List of International Educational Travel and Exchange Programs, 1988,” is also being distributed by the United States Information Agency to 35,000 embassies overseas.

While most student exchanges are well run, Mr. Hunt said, “the plain fact is that some are ripping off students, host families, and educators.”

The association’s council on standards for international travel, formed of secondary-school representatives and exchange organizations, in 1984 issued for the first time standards for school officials ranging from selection of students to placement in schools.

Placement Problems

Sayori Bates Morris, the Atlanta representative for the Educational Foundation for Foreign Study, the group that brought Emmanuel and Asbjorn to the U.S., said problems began when Emmanuel’s original host was suddenly notified he would have to be transferred to another state in three months. At the same time, Asbjorn was staying with a teacher, who could only host the youth temporarily.

Ms. Morris, who has worked for the exchange program part time for four years and receives $260 per placement, said she did not know about Cobb County’s limit on exchange students. She moved to Atlanta last year.

“If time permitted, I would have been happy to research the policy,’' said Ms. Morris, who works as a surgical assistant at the Emory University dental school.

Mr. Hunt said he had not heard of the case in Cobb County, but he said many school districts have quotas for the number of exchange students. The “J” and “F” class visas that most students come to this country under require program operators to have a host family and school designated before the student ever leaves home.

“The general feeling is the students are there at the invitation of a host family and school, so there is not per se a right to bring in a student and demand either a home or school placement,” Mr. Hunt said. “The program itself is on somewhat shaky ground in demanding a school placement.”

He said there are a few similar cases every year, but to have problems with two students in one area is unusual. “You just shouldn’t have cases like this,” he said.

The Educational Foundation is listed in the association’s booklet as meeting the standards set by the council. Programs are evaluated yearly, and if a program develops a pattern of difficulties placing students, the council may decide not to accept it for listing, he said.

‘Arbitrary Limit’

Dr. Wade Scholes, assistant superintendent for policy and local administration for the Cobb County schools, said the district’s quota policy was put in place 10 years ago because of overcrowding.

“We are a growing district and the exchange students put a strain on classroom space,” he said. “It’s just a matter of bringing some sense of order to this thing.”

The 64,000-student school district grew by 2,400 students last year, he said. Lassiter High, which was built for 1,900 students, enrolled 3,300 last year. He said the 20-student limit for exchanges is usually4reached quickly.

Elizabeth J. Appley, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in Atlanta, which represented Emmanuel and Asbjorn, argued that the quota is an “arbritrary limit” that violates the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The families are seeking that the policy be struck down, Ms. Appley said. “We’re concerned that this not happen to children again next year,” she said.

Numbers Still Unknown

The number of foreign students who come to the U.S. to study in secondary schools is unknown, because there are several different visas and educational programs available, Mr. Hunt said. However, he estimated that the programs listed in the booklet attract between 50,000 to 100,000 students every year.

The booklet may be ordered for $5 each from the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, 1906 Association Drive, Reston, Va. 22091. Discounts for large orders may be obtained by calling the council at (703) 860-0200.

A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 1987 edition of Education Week as Foreign-Exchange Snafus Tied to Growth in Host Groups