Sommer Brugal, Miami Herald, January 15, 2023
Since the start of the 2022-23 school year, nearly 10,000 students from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela have enrolled in Miami-Dade County public schools — about 2,500 more students than who arrived in the entire 2021-22 year, reflecting the surge of immigrants coming from those four countries over nearly six months.
All told, the district has enrolled more than 14,700 new students who’ve emigrated from another country, an unexpected wave that comes at a time when the district is grappling with an already thin workforce and classroom teacher vacancies — one of the pandemic’s lingering effects.
“This whole thing is like a perfect storm. We’ve already been experiencing, for the last couple of years, the lack of human capital,” said Miami-Dade School Board Chair Mari Tere Rojas in a meeting Wednesday where board members and Superintendent Jose Dotres discussed the issue. “Now, we’re going to have more children to serve.”
Of the 14,723 students who enrolled in the district between Aug. 17, 2022 — the start of the school year — and Jan. 10, 2023, 9,935 came from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the four countries where U.S. immigration levels have been at record highs over the past year, according to the district. The remaining students, enrolled in all grade levels, have come from more than 20 countries, mostly countries in the Americas such as Argentina, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico and Peru, and some from Russia and Ukraine.
The increase has become a topic of discussion for School Board members in recent months. Rojas in October requested data regarding migrant students. On Wednesday, at the end the board’s first workshop of the calendar year, the numbers came into sharper focus.
Board members and district staff briefly discussed the implications of the influx of students, particularly with the district facing fewer teachers since the pandemic. (At the start of the school year, the district reported about 220 classroom vacancies.)
The arrival of the new students has been particularly acute over the last few months, reflecting the near-daily landings of migrants off Florida’s southeast coast.
From mid-October to Dec. 22, the number of student migrants who enrolled in the district increased by more than 3,100, records show. On Oct. 11, the district reported 9,864 students who had enrolled after immigrating; by Dec. 22, the number totaled 12,978 students.
In December, just before Christmas, 175 Cubans arrived in the Florida Keys and Hollywood Beach in 24 hours. Over the New Year’s weekend, more than 500 Cubans arrived in the Keys. A group of 70 Haitian migrants arrived Thursday afternoon off Virginia Key, a barrier island off Miami that leads to Key Biscayne.
During the entire 2021-22 school year, the district enrolled 13,404 students who recently came from other countries, records show.
Notably, the countries the district is paying most attention to are Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, when comparing this year’s numbers to last year, said Dotres, who updated board members Wednesday on the latest numbers.
So far this year, there have been 4,600 more Cuban immigrant students who have enrolled compared to all of last school year, and nearly 1,700 more students from Venezuela, records show. Overall, the number of students this year enrolling from Nicaragua is just about 330 shy of the total number of students who emigrated last year from the country. And from Haiti, the number is just 90 fewer students compared to last year, data show.