BRISTOL - The school system is managing 35 students displaced from natural disasters and is expecting more.
Sue Moreau, superintendent of Bristol Public Schools, explained that 34 students are from Puerto Rico and displaced by the recent hurricanes, and one student is from Mexico, displaced by the recent earthquake.
The majority of new arrivals are accompanied minors and a few have arrived that are unaccompanied, but are moving in with relatives, according to Michael Dietter, director of special services for Bristol schools.
Most of the arrivals are doubled up, meaning that they are staying with a relative, friend or someone they have a connection with, Dietter said, and the new arrivals range from kindergarten to 12th grade. There are sibling groups of three or more, and most city schools have students enrolled.
Thirty percent of the students identify as having special needs or an Individualized Education Plan - a plan or program of specialized instruction and related services, Dietter explained, and 60 percent of the new arrivals are English Language Learners, meaning they speak little to no English.
“When they are disclosing that they are special ed, but we don’t have an IEP, we have to assess them and evaluate them which has brought up issues with language barriers,” Dietter said. However, he added that the school system has been able to communicate with the students through technology and available resources.
“Our preferred placement for the students is in schools in-district, but we have had to divert other schools because either classes are full, or they don’t have EL (English Language) resources,” he continued. “We have capped out many of our general ed classrooms as well as EL services have been capped in some buildings, which then raises the issue of needing to transport.”
Moreau explained in the Nov. 28 Board of Finance meeting, that accommodating the transportation needs of a new student is largely related to which city school has room for the students and the necessary services.
She said if a student lives in one school district, but the student enrollment at that school is “capped off” or services that student needs are not provided, the schools system pays to transport that student to another school with the necessary space or resources.
The school system’s new finance director, Jill Brown, said in the finance meeting that the transportation budget is between $60,000 and $65,000 over, and that the school board will be “keeping an eye on it.”
“At this point in time, I think there has been an impact on the budget,” Dietter said. “It’s not really clear what that impact is going to be in the long term. We don’t know how long some will be here, but recognizing that they are displaced families, our primary focus has been on stability and getting the services in place.”
Though, Dietter said, an “uptick” of new students is anticipated and there is a concern for housing new arrivals in Bristol.
There will be daily flights into Bradley Airport from Puerto Rico starting Dec. 1, he explained, but was unaware of the number of students, he explained, and when they arrive at Bradley, they register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and then are directed to relatives or sent to locations with housing.
“We don’t know what that’s going to look like, but a lot of it is determined by availability of housing. There is not an abundance of housing out there and there haven’t been any provisions to ease occupancy restrictions,” he said. “And right now, we’ve been told the temporary housing in Bristol has been maxed-out.”
Another issue, Moreau added, is that these students have never experienced winter.
“They aren’t coming with winter coats or warm clothing,” she said. She added that the Family Resource Centers at West Bristol, Greene-Hills and South Side schools are collecting winter attire for the students.
Lorenzo Burgio can be reached at 860-973-5088 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lorenzo Burgio on Twitter @burgioBP.