In early September, Hurricane Irma brushed right by Puerto Rico, knocking out power and leaving hundreds without running water. After the storm, roughly 600 schools had to close until power could be restored. By the time Hurricane Maria approached the island this week, 20 of those schools still had not reopened.
The eye of Maria came ashore near the town of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico around 6:15 a.m. EDT last Wednesday morning as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum, sustained winds of 155 mph. Maria knocked out power to the entire island, left roads impassable and caused widespread flooding, which has officials estimating that it could be several weeks or even months before some of Puerto Rico’s 350,000 students will be able to return to their local schools.
The Miami-Dade school district is preparing for an influx of displaced students, knowing that many Puerto Rican kids will likely be sent there, to temporarily live with relatives or entire families fleeing the island.
“Everybody is related to somebody on the island and they may not want their kids out of school for long periods of time,” said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “I think it is very, very likely that we will see a surge in the hundreds to perhaps a few thousand” Puerto Rican students coming to South Florida and the Orlando area, he added.
— Alberto M. Carvalho (@MiamiSup) September 23, 2017
Mari Corugedo, director of Florida’s League of United Latin American Citizens, agreed that schools in South Florida, Orlando, and Tampa should prepare for an influx of Puerto Rican students, who are U.S. citizens and can move to the mainland without a visa. She said decisions about whether to send children alone or relocate the whole family will likely depend on the parents’ job prospects.
“Definitely, if they have grandparents, aunts and uncles, you might see students coming while the parents figure out their economic situation,” said Corugedo, who has family on the island.
The amount of damage caused to schools from Hurricane Maria is currently unknown, and Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said she does not yet have a timeframe for reopening schools. The lack of running water is a major obstacle to resuming classes.
Keleher noted that she’s hoping families will keep their children in the Puerto Rican education system, which her office is in the process of overhauling. She said the government may decide to change the school calendar to make up for lost time or relocate some kids to nearby schools that are able to reopen more quickly.
“My commitment is to do everything possible to reduce the amount of lost instructional time,” Keleher told the Miami Herald.
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