Central Florida schools prepare for Puerto Rican students displaced by Maria

All districts said they will be ready to accept students

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist
Ferre' Dollar/CNN

Central Florida school districts are preparing for a possible influx of students and families from Puerto Rico displaced by Hurricane Maria.

With power out across nearly the entire island, families are anxious to get out elderly and other vulnerable relatives in particular, amid concerns about access to food and fresh water.

News 6 contacted school district officials to find out how they are preparing for students and their families. Every school district said they will be ready to accept students and help them with school supplies, as well as waive any necessary paperwork temporarily.

The University of Central Florida announced on Wednesday that it plans to allow displaced students, who are residents of Puerto Rico to receive in-state tuition for this fall and the 2018 spring semesters.

Brevard County

"Brevard Public Schools’ principals have been made aware students may be coming, have been given procedures for enrolling these students in the absence of records, and have been provided guidance to refer to the Student Progression Plan for their placement," BCPS media coordinator Jennifer Wolfinger said. "In addition, our homeless liaison stands ready to assist schools with needs for clothing and personal care items."

Flagler County

Flagler County Schools spokesman Jason Wheeler said the county will not turn any family away relocating because of Hurricane Maria.

"We'll begin the enrollment process right away and place students in classes, provided we have space available," Wheeler said. "We will also work with these families in establishing needed services with our partner social service organizations so that these children can continue their education."

Lake County

"Students coming from Puerto Rico would fall under the protections of the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act and would be allowed the same provisions such as immediate enrollment without required documents and free school meals," Lakes County Public Schools communications officer Sherri Owens said in an email to News 6. "Schools also can access a resource guide to help the family find other resources in Lake County, just as they do with other students protected by McKinney Vento."

Marion County

In Marion County, district officials said they have already begun enrolling students displaced by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. As of Thursday six new students were enrolled because of the storms.

"Ships arriving from Puerto Rico today and in the near future will likely increase that number," district spokesman Kevin Christian said.

Students displaced by disaster meet the same federal guidelines as homeless students.  Because of this, students are immediately enrolled with their family member or relative with them, Christian said.  Students may immediately enjoy services like free meals, transportation, and school supplies, among other much-needed services.  

Orange County

Orange County Public School officials said they are proactively working to develop plans to support displaced families.

"Should we receive students and families from Puerto Rico, we will assist them in making the transition as smoothly as possible," media relations manager Lorena Hitchcock said.

Documents necessary to enroll a student can be initially waived in order to ensure an easier transition.

Students will be registered and coded within the system, allowing the district to provide additional support to families, such as counseling and food services.

"We are prepared to respond to the needs of families in transition and support a continued education for students," Hitchcock said.

Osceola County

Osceola School District public information officer Dana Schafer said the county stand ready to enroll and assist students from Puerto Rico.

Students who arrive without records or immunizations and no school supplies will be enrolled immediately as Families in Transition, or FIT, students.

"Our school teams and school social workers will ensure that someone is checking with these students on a regular basis to ensure that they have acclimated and are comfortable in their new setting," Schafer said.

All schools have bilingual staff members.

The district would also welcome adults relocating from Puerto Rico to apply for teacher, support staff and bus driver positions.

Seminole County

Seminole County Public Schools communications officer Michael Lawrence said the district is prepared to process children coming to the county fleeing Puerto Rico.

"We will process them like any other students new to the district and would need to provide them any additional ESOL support services/classes they may need as well," Lawrence said. "Obviously, since many may be without paperwork, we will work to get the students placed and enrolled in school first and then deal with paperwork at a later time."

Lawrence did not have an estimate of how many students the district can except, but would request the Florida Departmnt of Education to waive the class-size rule so districts don't get penalizes for accepting more students.

Portables could also be added to accomdate more students.

Sumter County

"Currently, Sumter has only 36 students with Puerto Rico listed as a birthplace," Sumter County Public Schools spokesman Richard Shirley said. "Because of that relatively small number, we do not anticipate a significant impact to Sumter schools."

Volusia County
Volusia County School community information director Nancy Wait said the district has a plan for assisting families who are relocating from hurricane affected areas to transition successfully.

"Families will not be turned away; students will be quickly enrolled so they can begin attending school right away," Wait said. "Necessary documentation, such as medical and immunization records, will be waived for 30 days."

Students will be immediately eligible for services such as free meals, transportation and school supplies.  

Every effort will be made to help these families feel welcome and safe, Wait said.

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