READING, Pa. - As some schools in Puerto Rico reopen for the first time since Hurricane Maria devastated the island, the Reading School District's enrollment of students displaced by the storm has risen to more than two dozen.
Twenty-six students from Puerto Rico are now attending classes in Reading, according to the district's latest figures released Tuesday. That number is up from three about a month ago.
At a meeting of community leaders in Reading on Monday, officials said more than 50 families have enrolled their children in schools in Berks County. They did not identify other Berks districts that have accepted Puerto Rican students.
Puerto Rico's education department said it has been working with state education officials on the U.S. mainland to ensure a smooth transition for students whose families have left the island.
The Reading School District, already Pennsylvania's fourth largest, began preparing for the possibility of a sudden boost in its student enrollment soon after the storm tore a path of destruction across the U.S. territory on September 20.
Reading's superintendent, Khalid Mumin, said the migrant students are being treated as if they were homeless, meaning they have the rights to a "free and appropriate education." Mumin has said he doesn't expect a need for more teachers in Reading.
The district is also working with the students and their parents to ensure they obtain the appropriate immunization shots and can retrieve any paperwork that may have been lost in the storm.
More than 80 percent of Puerto Rico's residents still have no electricity, but the U.S. territory took a big step on Tuesday, with some of its more than 1,100 public schools resuming classes.
Still, of all the schools, hundreds continue to serve as community centers, and more than 70 are being used to shelter families that lost their homes to the hurricane. Dozens of other schools were badly damaged.
Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher said last week that she wanted to resume classes for all 345,000 students as soon as possible, but she wanted repairs made first to ensure the safety of students and teachers.
"Once we are certain that our students are safe, we will continue to open schools," she said.
Keleher said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been evaluating school buildings. In addition, the education department has consulted the teachers' union about recovering lost classroom time.
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