Florida has taken in nearly 8,000 students this year after hurricane disasters — the majority of them coming from Puerto Rico during the last couple months, according to the Florida Department of Education.
Duval County is now home to 136 of those Puerto Rican students.
Thirteen-year-old Yalieriz de Leon Vazquez loves art, specifically painting, and writing. On Monday she was wearing a Tinker Bell sweatshirt at Jacksonville’s Lake Shore Middle School. She’s a new student because she used to live on the south side of Puerto Rico, before Maria swept over the island.
“The hurricane was like a monster,” Yalieriz said. “There was water in the floor, in the kitchen.”
She said during the storm her grandpa put a chair against the kitchen door to keep it closed.
“The hurricane broke the door and it was horrible,” Yalieriz said. But the hard part came after the storm clouds passed.
“There was no water or food,” she said. “To get money in the bank you have to make a line, a long line for like four hours standing there.”
Yalieriz lives in Jacksonville with her 12-year-old sister, grandma and grandpa — Miguel Vazquez.
“Since their mom passed away we had them since they were babies and they’re our daughters right now,” Vazquez said. “They’re not our granddaughters, they’re our daughters.”
Vazquez said he recently retired and had already planned to move his family to Jacksonville, but not like this. They don’t have most of their belongings with them.
“Everything is still there. [We have] just clothing,” he said. “Even some of the paper we thought we had already packed in our luggage, she left them behind, shot records and stuff like that.”
He said that made getting the girls into school difficult, but the district helped a lot.
“The state right away let us know to be ready and let us know about expediting the enrollment process,” said Julia Crowe an “English as Second Language” or ESOL Specialist with the district.
That means getting those kids into school, even if they don’t have all their paperwork like medical records. Crowe said part of her department’s job is to help parents get their children in the right school. For instance, Lake Shore Middle, where Yalieriz goes, is a English learning hub of sorts.
“They have developmental classes for their English, Language Arts and reading,” Crowe said. “They are taught in a sheltered setting meaning all of the students in that class are also learning English.”
And bilingual aides are in their other classes to help translate.
In addition to 136 students from Puerto Rico, the district has taken in 32 students from the Virgin Islands, 11 from Texas and 31 from other areas affected by disasters.
A district spokeswoman said many of these students fleeing disaster were enrolled after a day in October where all students are counted. That count determines how much per-student funding districts get — that’s $7,297 per student for the whole year.
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said Wednesday districts get a recount and supplemental funding if the influx of students accounts for five percent of a district’s enrollment or a quarter of the population of one school, according to state law.
Osceola County has received the largest percentage increase in students with an additional 1,218 students from Puerto Rico and other disaster areas, accounting for 2.2 percent of enrollment
Stewart said if no districts qualify for the supplemental funding, they can request a waiver and it’s up to Stewart to approve them for a recount.
“I have that ability because of the governor’s executive order,” Stewart said.
She said either way schools will at least get half the funding for those students if they’re present for a February count.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.