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Hurricane Creates Influx of New Residents in Northern Ohio, Putting Pressure on LEP Programs

Michael Nutter

December 20, 2017

Ohio is welcoming a growing number of Puerto Ricans fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Maria. This influx of new local citizens — particularly young ones — puts immense pressure on the state’s public school districts to ensure that they’re more meticulous than ever in tracking the number of enrolled students.

Three months after its initial impact, much of Puerto Rico is still reeling from the devastation left by Hurricane Maria. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have left the island since late September — most heading for the United States — and experts believe that as many as 300,000 more are likely to depart over the next two years.

As conditions worsen, families are hoping that a move to the mainland won’t disrupt their children’s ongoing education. As of December 5th, 1,075 of Puerto Rico’s nearly 1,200 schools had reopened, but many of them were operating in conditions that would be considered unacceptable under normal circumstances. According to the island’s Secretary of Education Julia Keleher, schools have been allowed to reopen as long as they can provide students with potable water. Mold, extensive water damage, and even a lack of power don’t immediately disqualify schools from holding classes — indeed, only 38 schools have been permanently closed due to structural damage.

However. this devastation pushed enrollment in Puerto Rico’s K-12 system down from around 350,000 students before the storm to 331,000 students as of early December, though Keleher cautions that the latter figure is still difficult to determine with any sort of precision.

Growing Enrollment in Many Ohio School Districts

Of the roughly 20,000 students who have left Puerto Rico, as many as 14,000 have sought refuge within the continental U.S. Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, and New Jersey have welcomed the highest number of new residents, but Ohio has seen an influx of Puerto Ricans as well — and the state’s public school administrators are scrambling to accommodate the surge in attendance.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District has enrolled the most new Puerto Rican students this school year. Jose Gonzalez, Head of the district’s Multicultural Multilingual Office, says that nearly 200 families have already come to him for help. “[We’re] about to receive a huge influx of English Language Learners from Puerto Rico, more than ever,” Gonzalez reports. School districts in Youngstown, Columbus, Toledo, and Dayton are all reporting smaller — though still significant — numbers of new enrollees.

But as both Gonzalez and State Representative Dan Ramos caution, helping students overcome their limited English proficiency (LEP) isn’t the only challenge educators will face in the months and years to come. In addition to English language classes, Ramos explains, “They’re going to need…other kinds of help. I remember the stories my Dad told about when he came in the 1950s and, never having seen winter before, never owned a coat.” Gonzalez reminds educators that living through a major natural disaster and moving to a brand new place creates a great deal of emotional baggage that will take patience to work through.

The Importance of Accurate EMIS Reporting

With Ohio public schools already operating on a tight budget, it’s going to be difficult to provide each and every new student with the educational resources and support they need to succeed. That’s why it’s absolutely essential for school districts to ensure that their Education Management Information System (EMIS) records are as complete and accurate as possible.

In order to secure all of funding to which it’s legally entitled, a school district must be able to guarantee that its enrollment data is accurate at all times. This is where a tool like Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS platform is incredibly valuable. CheckPoint processes and organizes massive quantities of EMIS data in a fraction of the time it would take a superintendent or district treasurer to do by hand. This makes it easy to closely track both the cohort of students who rely on support from LEP programs and a district’s enrollment data.

Better data reporting won’t help Puerto Rican students recover from the hurricane on its own, but it’s a critical intermediary step to help public schools secure enough resources to adequately educate new Ohio students in this time of great need.

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