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School Districts Ready to Enroll Puerto Rican Students Affected By Hurricane Maria

UPDATED

School officials from Miami to Hartford, Conn., are getting ready to enroll Puerto Rican students, whose families may leave the island after it was slammed by Hurricane Maria more than a week ago, leaving millions of residents in the dark and without running water.

Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, which has about 700,000 residents of Puerto Rican descent, said he expects thousands of Puerto Ricans to join their families in New York City. De Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina also wrote that the city's schools were open to those in need regardless of whether students had documentation, such as birth certificates, with them. 

President Trump on Thursday temporarily lifted the Jones Act, which requires that goods shipped between the coasts to be delivered on American ships, according to the Washington Post. Puerto Rican officials and some members of Congress had called for the Act to be waived in the hurricane's aftermath, arguing that it was impeding the delivery of food, medical supplies, and water to the island during a humanitarian disaster.

School officials in the continental United States may not see an influx of students from Puerto Rico—who are American citizens—for weeks because flights to and from the island are still in short supply.

In Hartford, Conn., officials at the district's Welcome Center had already started collecting supplies for schools in Puerto Rico that had been affected by Hurricane Irma. The district is exploring how to support staff who still have relatives and loved ones on the island, the Hartford Courant reported. Officials in Waterbury, Conn., are looking to see which schools and classrooms may have space for incoming students, the paper said. 

The Miami Herald reported earlier this week that South Florida districts—many of them still trying to get back on track after Hurricane Irma—are also preparing for students.

"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 Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald.

Miami-Dade spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego told Education Week on Wednesday that so far the district had only enrolled three new students from Puerto Rico.

"We expect [the] number to increase with more flights resuming," she said.

Miami-Dade was closed for a week after Hurricane Irma lashed Florida with ferocious winds and rains. 

In nearby Orange County, based in Orlando, district spokeswoman Shari Bobinski said the district was already taking steps to assist. The district may waive some enrollment requirements to help ease the transition for students and ensure that they have access to counseling, food, and other services they may need, she said. 

Puerto Rico's education secretary told the Miami Herald that she had no time frame for when schools would open. Hurricane Irma had already significantly affected the school system, leaving 400 schools without running water and 600 without power, according to the paper.

Aida Diaz, the president of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about 40,000 of the island's teachers, told Education Week that she found broken windows and downed electrical poles and cables at some school buildings she visited in recent days.

But she said the major problem was just basic necessities. Communication remained a challenge, she said. 

"We need water," she said.  "We need electricity. ...That's what we need."

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