Nearly 300 students fleeing the devastation in Puerto Rico have enrolled in Orange County (Fla.) public schools since Hurricane Maria struck their island.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Orange County school leaders are working to make sure the students are enrolled and embraced by the county’s public schools.
“Tell your neighbors, tell your friends — these children are welcome with open arms,” says Superintendent Barbara Jenkins.
District leaders also are eager to hire bilingual Puerto Rican teachers looking to relocate to Florida. Already, a few have been hired, including some in hard-to-fill subject areas, such as high school chemistry, math and physics.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has directed the state's Department of Education to limit bureaucratic hurdles for student enrollment and teacher credentials.
School administrators say they may need more from the state — extra money and flexibility on state class-size and testing rules, for example — but won’t know for sure until they have a better handle on how many new students will be arriving.
The Education Department says districts will be allowed to request extra funding, if district enrollment surpasses 5 percent of its projected student count or if a school’s enrollment tops 25 percent of projections.
The district is nearby Osceola County says it has enrolled 110 students from Puerto Rico.
Both Orange and Osceola schools also have enrolled hurricane-refugee students from places other than Puerto Rico. In Orange, 92 students from the U.S. Virgin Islands have started classes recently, and in Osceola, about 70 students from other places have enrolled in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
VIDEO: Orange County school officials held a news conference welcoming displaced families.