Influx of hurricane refugees poses challenge to Meriden schools

Influx of hurricane refugees poses challenge to Meriden schools

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MERIDEN — School administrators are seeking state and federal aid to help pay the cost of accepting more than 127 students from Puerto Rico.

The students began arriving days after the enrollment deadline the state uses to determine education cost-sharing grants. The total of 127 was accurate as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, but more students arrive every day, educators said. 

“We’re still waiting for something in the form of federal aid,” said Miguel Cardona, associate superintendent of Meriden Public Schools. “If we had these students before October 1, our district would have received $867,000 in additional ECS funding.”

Cardona and Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni met with Meriden’s state legislative delegation Tuesday to discuss the challenges facing the district. 

The vast majority of the students, 113 out of 127, need bilingual education offered at four schools in the city, Cardona said. Hanover School has accepted 36 new students and was forced to create two larger third grade classes. The move freed up a teacher to help in the school’s fourth grade.

“The teachers have been phenomenal,” Cardona said. “We’re hoping for supplemental funds. We’re working with community partners for trauma support.” 

Some students left grandparents behind on the battered island. One seven-year-old girl was put on a plane to stay with family members and hasn’t seen her mother in over a month, Cardona said. 

Maloney High School has seen the second largest influx of students at 31, followed by Thomas Hooker at 26 and Lincoln Middle School at 20 new students. The remaining 14 students have been absorbed in the regular academic program at the district’s non-bilingual schools.

“These are not ordinary circumstances,” said state Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden. “It’s been very challenging for these kids. There is a disproportionate number who need special services.”

Suzio said the delegation will meet with the state Department of Education on the request for additional funds. Meriden also lost $273,723 in state aid last month.

“The decrease in funding and the increase in demand is the perfect storm,” Suzio said.

The state delegation will also be looking for possible Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding.

The Meriden Housing Authority has also accepted housing referrals from social service agencies, such as Casa Boricua de Meriden. Families arriving without paperwork are assisted by office staff. The housing authority, which recently relocated 116 families out of the Mills Memorial Apartments, is short on available housing but has placed about 10 families, said Executive Director Robert Cappelletti.

Meriden Public Schools, Casa Boricua and the city’s Disaster Relief Committee will host a fundraiser to benefit hurricane and earthquake victims in Puerto Rico and Mexico. The event will be from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday at Maloney High School and will feature Mariachi Mexico Antiguo, Latin Heartbeat Orchestra, and special guest artist Marissa.

Tickets are $15, children 11 and up $5, and under 10 are free. They may be purchased at Casa Boricua, Valentin Karate, La Amistad Bakery, and Meriden Public Schools central office.Guests are asked to bring an unwrapped toy. Food will be available for purchase. 





Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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