Hurricane Victim Enrollment Levels Off In Dunkirk

DUNKIRK — Some of the families fleeing the aftermath of September hurricanes have made their way from Puerto Rico to Dunkirk, but the numbers of students enrolling in school have evened off recently, according to a Dunkirk City School District official.

Hurricane Maria rocked the island and left many without power, clean water or shelter. Families fled the devastation, some coming to Dunkirk to be near relatives.

Connie Meginnis, director of ENL/Bilingual Education, said the census of disaster victims has stayed steady at 40 for three weeks.

“It’s slowed down the last three weeks, but prior to the last month, we were getting a few every week. It wasn’t anything substantial. … I wouldn’t say there were any more than five in one week, but weekly it could range from zero to five,” she explained of the past four months.

Dunkirk experiences a trend of students coming and going in the district throughout the year, according to Meginnis. She said that is still true, but fewer students are leaving post-hurricane.

She said those 40 students are pretty evenly distributed between elementary, middle and high school. Dunkirk has a student population of 2,200 students, about 20 percent of which are English as a New Language (ENL) learners.

The New York State Education Department is requiring a weekly survey of disaster displaced populations, but the promise of additional aid has not been elaborated.

“It says, ‘the New York State Education Department is requesting that local education agencies complete the disaster displaced student survey linked below displaced by the recent hurricanes … and earthquakes.’ It says to keep an ongoing count, that’s why they’re doing it. They ask us to submit that every Thursday until further notice. It does say they’re exploring ways to support districts and seek additional funding to best serve the incoming students. That’s always good to hear, but we haven’t learned any information with that,” she said.

Despite the decrease in enrollments, the school is keeping its eye on factors that could ramp up displaced students’ registrations once again.

“We’re a little higher than last year, but that could be for a variety of reasons. The fact that they’re closing a lot of schools in Puerto Rico, that’s in the news now, the number of schools they’re closing down for the financial stability of Puerto Rico,” Meginnis added, referring to an Education Week article describing a new fiscal plan from Gov. Ricardo Rossello that would close more than 300 of the island’s roughly 1,100 schools.

“It’s kind of just a sit and wait and see what happens. We’ll go from there,” she said.