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U.S. States Prepare for an Influx of Puerto Rican Students Displaced by Hurricane Maria

With much of Puerto Rico still without electricity, the island’s schools remain closed with officials saying that the week of October 16 will likely be the earliest that any students return.

With 1,113 public schools and a student population of 350,000, this means that U.S. schools could soon see a large influx of new students from the island. Jackie Calzadilla, the media relations director for Miami-Dade public schools, told NPR that the only reason the city’s school district hasn’t yet seen an influx of Puerto Rican students is because of the lack of commercial flights coming out of the island. The island’s main airport, Luis Marín Muñoz International Airport in San Juan, is only getting out about a dozen flights a day.

Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, assured parents that the city’s school district was ready to welcome new students when they arrived. “We are ready to embrace them, to hug them, to love them and to teach them,” Carvalho said.

Students transferring to a new school district are generally required to produce such documents as proof of residence, but in emergency situations school districts often waive this requirement. As was the case with Houston students affected by Hurricane Harvey back in September. The federal government also classifies displaced students as “homeless” ensuring them that they’ll receive free meals and transportation at their new schools.

Displaced students from Puerto Rico are expected to be relocated to schools as far away as Connecticut and New York.

The Consolidated School District of New Britain, Connecticut, has already welcomed half a dozen Puerto Rican students and is expecting more who may be staying with family they have in the area, said Superintendent Nancy Sarra. “To not open our doors would be doing a disservice to our families. They matter. Our families matter, our students matter.”

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio told the New York Post that he’d be surprised if the number of new students the city received “was less than the thousands.”

Both New York and Connecticut school districts are asking for donations such as batteries, baby food, hygiene products, school supplies, and clothes for students who could be coming to the U.S. mainland with nothing. The Consolidated School District of New Britain and New York City have also reached out to FEMA for help.

In the meantime, New Britain says it will open a welcoming shelter for displaced families so that they can connect with the school district and get students enrolled in schools as soon as possible.

 

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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