Thousands of students from Puerto Rico have enrolled in Florida public schools

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More than 7,900 students from Puerto Rico and other islands damaged by this year's hurricanes have enrolled in Florida public schools, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said Tuesday.

Updating the State Board of Education, which met in Lake County, Stewart said 7,212 students displaced from Puerto Rico and 710 students from the Virgin Islands and other areas where storm damage and electric outages have hindered the recovery are now being taught in Florida schools. That represents a 0.2 percent increase in the statewide enrollment of more than 2.8 million kindergarten through high-school students, Stewart said.

Orange County had the largest new enrollment with 1,793 students, including 1,561 from Puerto Rico, representing a 0.8 percent increase in a district with more than 200,000 students.

The largest percentage increase was in Osceola County, with a 2.2 percent increase, representing an additional 1,218 students in the district, which serves some 65,000 students.

Polk County had a 1.6 percent increase in enrollment, with 559 students from Puerto Rico and other areas. Miami-Dade County had 764 new students, or a 0.2 percent increase.

Stewart said an additional challenge is that most of the students do not speak English as their primary language, requiring districts to take that into account as they enroll students.

But Stewart also said Florida school districts, as well as state colleges, “have very clearly sent the message that these students are to be welcomed.”

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