By Tom Tracy
Catholic News Service
MIAMI (CNS) — Catholic schools in the Miami Archdiocese are accepting students and enrollment inquiries from Puerto Rican families displaced to Florida after the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria.
An informal survey conducted in early October by the Miami Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools indicated that some 50 students from Puerto Rico — including two from the U.S. Virgin Islands — had already been placed in Catholic elementary and secondary schools within the archdiocese and more enrollments are expected in the coming months.
"They are still in the process of arriving since flights out of Puerto Rico are difficult to get and very expensive. We expect to receive more students in the coming weeks," said Hope Sadowski, coordinator of foreign students and administrative executive assistant in the Office of Catholic Schools in Miami.
Sadowski said the Miami Archdiocese is asking the schools to keep a tally of the Puerto Rican enrollments and to do everything they can to facilitate the emergency enrollments wherever possible. She said Catholic schools are working with the families on an individual basis to determine financial arrangements and in some cases may offer a waiver or partial waiver of tuition fees in the short term.
She said the situation is developing fast and could become a long-term crisis depending on how fast Puerto Rico can rebuild infrastructure.
"It is probably going to be a temporary situation, but it might last the whole school year due to the lack of electricity and damages to the schools there," Sadowski said. She predicts many students in Puerto Rico will be unable to attend any school this year due and will have to make up for the lost year later.
She has not been in contact with Catholic school officials in Puerto Rico and there is no formal coordinated effort to place Puerto Rican students in Catholic schools but she said many families may move here for the short term given some dire predictions of a prolonged recovery process.
Three weeks after the hurricane, a reported 85 percent of the island was without power, and with limited or no communications and a lack of safe drinking water — all prerequisites for operate a school safely. President Donald Trump has asked Congress for $4.9 Billion to help Puerto Rico Rebuild.
"Our schools are wonderful, caring places and I don’t think we need to tell them what to do — they know we are here to support them and they will try to make the (new students) comfortable, to adjust to a new place," Sadowski said.
She also credited the children themselves. "Kids are very good at adjusting," she said, "and this will give them a sense of normality and a sense that life goes on even though they will know that it is temporary."