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Miami-Dade schools welcome migrant students - but enrollment surge strains staffing and mental health services

According to Miami-Dade school district officials, the number of new students from Cuba who have enrolled this year so far is more than double the total from last year.

Officials with Miami-Dade County Public Schools say they need help as they welcome the thousands of immigrant students who are moving to South Florida and enrolling in the district.

In recent months, the county has seen a significant increase in children and families fleeing Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, at a time when scores of migrants are risking their lives by taking to the seas to seek refuge in the U.S.

MDCPS has long welcomed students from around the world. That’s a point of pride, especially for district officials who left their home countries as children and enrolled in the county’s public schools — including MDCPS Superintendent Jose Dotres.

“We have services. We have procedures. We are very good at what we do, in terms of providing support and assistance through our academic team for students that are coming in to learn English,” Dotres said.

“We have 179 countries represented in our school district. However it is really 20 countries and right now four that create the bulk of foreign born [students] that are entering into our school district.”

“These children have gone through traumatic experiences. Traumatic. They have crossed borders guided by coyotes ... But now we are receiving them.”
Miami-Dade School Board Member Roberto Alonso

The sheer number of children arriving in the district over the past few months is significant — nearly 10,000 since the start of the school year. The number of students who have enrolled so far this year from Cuba alone is more than double last year’s count, according to district officials.

Many of the children need additional support — especially when it comes to mental health.

“These children have gone through traumatic experiences. Traumatic,” said School Board Member Roberto Alonso. “They have crossed borders guided by coyotes due to things that are out of our control. But now we are receiving them.”

The increase in enrollment comes as the district was already struggling to hire enough teachers and staff — a challenge schools across the state are facing.

“I look forward to working with all of our federal elected officials as well as our state elected officials as your liaison for the board to make sure that we bring light to this issue,” Alonso said.

“And that the appropriate funds come back to this district so that we can hire the teachers … but as well hire the coaches and the specialty folks that we need — especially when it comes to mental health.”

School Board Chair Mari Tere Rojas says she and Dotres plan to lobby federal officials as well.

“We need to make sure that clearly everyone understands that the economic portion to this conversation is essential in order for us to continue to provide all of the services that we have to provide to all of our children,” Rojas said.

Dotres has said that so far, the schools receiving the new students have the room to enroll them. But class size is a concern; if the strain becomes too much, he says some of the new arrivals may be redirected to schools that have more empty seats.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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