Gov. Rick Scott directed the state’s public school officials on Friday to make accommodations for the expected arrival of Puerto Rican evacuees who were impacted by Hurricane Maria.
Scott instructed the Florida Department of Education to waive state rules and regulations to ensure the smooth transition of displaced children into Florida’s public schools.
“As Puerto Rican families work to rebuild their lives following the unbelievable devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, we are doing everything we can to help them throughout this process,” said Scott. “We will continue to work together to make sure Puerto Rican families have all the support they need.”
Among the governor’s orders is a waiver of the rules requiring students have certain documentation and medical records. Since many displaced families may not have access to those records, Scott has directed school officials to enroll those students even though they might not have the needed documentation.
“As a result of the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, families from Puerto Rico and elsewhere have relocated to Florida,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “Entire communities were destroyed and we do not know how long it will take to restore schools and other essential infrastructure. Therefore, it is critical that these students and teachers have the opportunity to participate in our state’s outstanding public education system. ”
As part of the order, requirements for teachers who have been affected by Hurricane Maria are also being waived. Upon receiving a request from a school superintendent, the education department will waive the application fee for an initial educator certificate. The department will allow the acceptance of an unofficial transcript of teaching degrees or copies of a valid teaching certificate issued by another state or U.S. territory.
Scott has also authorized state colleges to waive rules and requirements so that Puerto Rican students can more quickly enroll in a college. All 28 Florida College System institutions have agreed to offer in-state tuition to Puerto Rican students who were impacted by Hurricane Maria.
On Thursday, the governor announced that Florida Virtual School will accept 20,000 Puerto Rican students. The online school will allow students to continue their education whether they are still in Puerto Rico or in Florida.
State education officials say it’s difficult to estimate how many Puerto Rican families and their school-aged children will eventually evacuate to Florida, and they say it’s too early to determine how many already have.