Hurricanes Irma and Maria aren’t the only forces closing schools in embattled Puerto Rico. Out of the island’s 1,460 public schools, approximately 400 were destroyed by the storms and surge and an additional 600 remain without power. And months before this, in May of this year, Puerto Rico’s department of education made the decision to close nearly 180 schools in a budget-tightening measure. Leaving something less than 300 schools open, for approximately 700,000 school-age children.
Even before the catastrophic hurricane season, Puerto Rico’s government was $120 billion in debt. Many corners had to be cut, and they will continue to be, even more into the quick. Re-opening schools is now a considered a secondary priority – there is no predicted date for Puerto Rican students to go back to class.
The result? Students (and teachers, too) from Puerto Rico are fleeing to stateside schools in droves.
Large school districts, especially in Florida but also in many major U.S. cities, are preparing for an “influx” of Puerto Rican students. American citizens all, many students’ families are moving into Mainland U.S. to attend schools.
The flood is slow, due to Puerto Rico’s barely-functioning airport, but it has distinctly begun. Many districts are treating these students like refugees, waiving requirements for documents that may be impossible to recover from storm-damaged homes, schools, and cities. Education isn’t the only service being offered directly upon arrival – enrollment also gives students access to counseling, food, and in many cases health care.
It is impossible to tally the traumatic effects of losing not only one’s home to a storm, but one’s entire community. Just like in a war zone, youths who miss a year of school due to natural disaster have low odds of ever completing their education. Offering them the consistency of a school year is as important as offering shelter and food. And the future of Puerto Rico depends heavily on not losing the educational and professional futures of an entire generation.