Bridgeport Prepares to Accept Students From Puerto Rico
Connecticut Post, October 5, 2017
by Linda Lambeck
Liz Vosques came to Cesar Batalla School on Monday to gather information. She has nieces, nephews and cousins in Hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and heard the district might be willing to accept them.
Jeanette Gwynn, who has a son at Bridgeport Military Academy, heard the same thing and came with concerns.
“Why Bridgeport,” asked Gwynn of a school with deep budget woes. “You have to embrace everyone but our city is already so poor we can barely take care of students in our own school. Why not pick a richer city.”
Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson told a full cafeteria of parents, kids and staff members that district money problems aside, the district would open its doors to any student from Puerto Rico who moves in with relatives here.
“I do understand your concerns over the fiscal conditions that the state is currently facing,” Johnson said. “However that is not at the fault of children.”
Superintendent addresses parents back to top
Johnson said the idea is to be proactive and make sure families know they are welcome. She insisted students already here would not be harmed by the influx of more children in need.
Ana Sousa Martins, director of bilingual education in the district, said the district has received many phone calls but so far just one student from Puerto Rico. She is a high school student who was already here visiting relatives when Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory last month.
More are expected. Bridgeport is home to some 31,000 residents of Puerto Rican descent. The information session held Monday and translated into Spanish, outlined what Puerto Rican students need to enroll. In most cases, just proof of address.
“When students are coming with just the clothes on their back we cant expect documentations, immunizations,” Johnson said. She said a plan is in place to get that information once the students are enrolled.
Bridgeport’s Puerto Rican student registration process will be streamlined into one location. Parents should contact Carmen Albaladejo in Room 327 of City Hall. The number is 203-275-1340. Information is also available at bridgeportedu.com.
Under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, displaced students who move to the city must be accepted by the district, and automatically qualify for free school meals, health care, special education and other services.
Last week Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office issued guidance to school districts on the process.
Johnson said students would be placed where there are open seats in a dozen or more schools where language services are offered.
Batalla Principal Hector Sanchez said his assumption is the situation will be temporary, until Puerto Rico gets back on its feet.
“That’s why we need a plan,” Sanchez said.
Johnson said the district will keep track of how many students from Puerto Rico are taken in.
Vosques said she is not certain if her family members will come or not. Communication has been spotty. She has yet to hear from her mother.
“This makes me feel good, because I know what will be here for them if they come,” Vosques said.