by Pia K. Hansen
One-Way Ticket -- SPOKANE -- Last year, when Hans Welter agreed to have his sister's grandson from Germany come live with him and go to high school here, he had no idea how hard it was going to be.
Now, because of new federal programs designed to keep terrorists out of the country, 17-year-old Robert Bechlin is heading back home to Germany after spending just two months in school here. And Welter feels stonewalled by a school district he says should have done more to help him.
"I contacted Spokane [Public Schools] in September of last year," explains Welter. "I was told it was a little early to apply, but they could tell me what I needed from the student and then they said to come see them in January."
Welter went to Germany and together with Bechlin's parents, he got the requested information.
In January, Welter returned to Spokane Public Schools.
"I talked to Mona Griffin -- there should be no problem she said," recalls Welter. "In February, I wrote them a check for tuition for one year of high school. It was $7,877.64."
A new federal program called the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is mandatory for all institutions that accept exchange students. SEVP is supposed to make it easier to track foreign students once they enter the country. It was implemented after authorities found that some of the terrorists behind the attack on the World Trade Center were in the United States on expired student visas. SEVP students are now registered online via SEVIS (the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System).
Welter says the school district told him that the process to comply with SEVIS had been initiated, but there were some computer and password problems with the online registration.
"That was in May or June. By July, I still didn't have an answer," he says.
Bechlin, in the meantime, arrived in Spokane on a 90-day visitor's visa, which expires on Nov. 12. Welter says he was told it was OK for Bechlin to start classes at Lewis and Clark.
According to current immigration law, that is not correct. Even the school district now admits that.
"Yes, I was na & iuml;ve. I allowed him to register -- I have to own that one. I shouldn't have done that," says Mona Griffin, the coordinator of student services at the secondary level. "I kept thinking it was going to work out. I've lost so much sleep over this."
She says getting approved by SEVIS "hasn't been an easy process" but that she has been working on it since March.
"I want to assure you that all the other foreign students are legal," says Griffin. "These programs are supposed to prevent terrorists from entering the country, but all they really do is make things 10 times harder for us."
"It never occurred to me that he couldn't come over here and start going to school without a special visa," says Welter. "They should have said something."
The only good news is that Welter is getting his tuition money back. "I'm glad I got a receipt," he says dryly.
Different Skates -- SPOKANE -- It's getting a little cold around here, but regardless of snow, the much-talked-about skatepark is finally getting ready to open.
This Saturday at noon, the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department is hosting the ribbon-cutting ceremony together with the Hillyard Festival Association, the Hillyard Neighborhood Council and the Hillyard Community Development Steering Committee.
"Yes, it's cold, but they are already skating up there and we decided to go ahead with the ceremony regardless of the weather," says Desi Bucknell, president of the festival association and the coordinator of Saturday's event. "It's almost completely ready, the center is done, the bowls are done. It's just the outside perimeter that isn't quite ready yet."
Mayor John Powers will be at the ceremony, which celebrates the completion of $260,000 project. The park was designed by Grindline -- an industry leader -- to accommodate many skill levels and skating styles.
"It's great to see it come together," says Bucknell. "It can be used over winter as long as it's clear of snow -- it's not covered. Also, we are looking at raising some more funds for benches and lights. We'll need about $50,000 for that, but the steering committee has some funds we may be able to tap into. It's all pretty exciting."
The new skatepark is located in the 5900 block of North Market Street, in Sharpley Harmon Park, at the corner of Decatur Avenue. The ceremony begins on Nov. 8 at noon.
Publication date: 11/06/03