MAC Staff Attorney Diana Santiago appears on WCVB Channel 5 CityLine
Discusses needs of Puerto Rican students with disabilities displaced by Hurricane Maria

Since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, over 500 students arriving from the island have enrolled in Massachusetts schools, and that number is growing. MAC Staff Attorney Diana Santiago appeared on WCVB-TV’s CityLine on Sunday, November 5 to discuss the needs of these displaced students. Click here for a video.

Diana leads Proyecto Acceso a la Educación Especial, a MAC project focused on the needs of Latino students who have disabilities. She emphasized that the displacement experienced by students during and since the hurricane is a traumatic event for these children, many of whom are students with disabilities. She highlighted some of the barriers that families of children with disabilities may face to enrolling and accessing services in their new school district. These barriers may include missing paperwork that documents their education needs and gaps in staffing in school districts to understand the needs of each student and the services they may require. Despite these barriers, she emphasized that school districts must ensure that children are placed and begin receiving services right away.

Diana emphasized that “School is really important for these students, not only for providing academics, but also to provide stability and a routine that will be so crucial for them to move forward,” adding that there are additional concerns about access to language supports for Spanish-speaking students.

The largest concentration of students coming to Massachusetts has been in urban areas, principally Holyoke, Springfield, Worcester, and Boston. The school districts are responding quickly, including setting up sites at community-based organizations to make it easier for families arriving from Puerto Rico to enroll in school. More families are expected when some commercial airline travel is renewed starting this week.

Families affected by the hurricane are encouraged to dial 211 (supported by United Way) to be connected to their regional Family Resource Center for social service information and support accessing public benefits programs. MAC’s Helpline (617-357-8431) has both Spanish and English speaking staff available to answer questions and help parents with concerns about their children’s access to education and service providers that are assisting these families.

Diana appeared alongside José Massó, Director of Policy for Massport. Massó discussed state efforts toward aid for families in Puerto Rico. Click here for a video of the full interview (with Karen Holmes Ward of WCVB-TV).