Influx of Puerto Rico students strains school resources
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — As families continue arriving from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, advocates on Wednesday called for more help meeting the needs of thousands of displaced people, including students, who have found shelter in Connecticut’s biggest cities.
Schools in many of the state’s most financially distressed urban areas have opened their doors to newcomers since Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. Caribbean territory in September.
In Hartford, where the public schools have enrolled nearly 400 new students from Puerto Rico, Superintendent Leslie Torres Rodriguez said accommodating them is expected to cost $1 million this year in unanticipated expenses. She said school officials are in touch with the state Department of Education about providing reimbursement and identifying other resources needed to assess the newcomers’ skills and well-being.
“This is a matter of staying true to the mission of public schools,” she said.
Democratic Hartford state Rep. Matt Ritter, the House majority leader, said it will be a legislative priority to provide additional funding for affected school districts. He said the governor’s office and legislative leaders also are setting up a working group to streamline and coordinate eforts to support the storm-displaced families.
Hartford City Councilwoman Wildaliz Bermudez said it’s not fair for the cities alone to shoulder the burden.
“We need the Connecticut community to come in and help these refugees because we certainly are not alone. If we are not able to come together in this way then shame on us,” she said.
In Puerto Rico more than 40 percent of power customers remain in the dark nearly four months after the Category 4 storm hit the island, causing an estimated $95 billion in damage and killing dozens of people. Classes are resuming this week even though hundreds of public schools are still without power.
Among those who have come to Connecticut is Archie Santiago Rivera, who said conditions in Puerto Rico left him with no choice but to move away from the island for the first time in his 55 years. His stay at a Hartford hotel was expected to end in a few days, but he was among a group of displaced islanders who recently had their assistance extended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through February.
“I want to thank everyone lending a hand,” he said. “I am very grateful and very thankful.”