Florida Virtual School to enroll up to 20,000 Puerto Rican students


As Puerto Rico begins to recover from the devastation brought by Hurricane Maria, students from the U.S. territory have been offered an opportunity to resume their schoolwork — but online, through the Florida Virtual School.

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, announced that the state’s online public school would accept 20,000 Puerto Rican students at no cost. Many Puerto Rican families relocated to Florida after the storm.

“Families in Puerto Rico have experienced extreme devastation of their homes and communities due to Hurricane Maria,” Scott said in an official statement Thursday. “As they work to rebuild their lives, these families should not have to worry about their children falling behind in school.”

Puerto Rico, with its 350,000 K-12 students, has struggled to reopen many of its 1,200 schools since the hurricane last month. The territory’s Education Secretary Julia Keleher hopes to have 100 of them open and operating by Tuesday, Oct. 10.

The students can enroll in the Florida Virtual School — the state’s official online learning platform, established 20 years ago — whether they currently reside in Florida or remain in Puerto Rico, the governor’s office said. FVS is an accredited, statewide institution with more than 150 online courses for elementary, middle and high school students, according to its website. The school provides free courses for Floridians and typically charges tuition for out-of-state students.

The online program may provide a way to ease pressure on brick-and-mortar Florida schools bracing for an influx of Puerto Rican students, as the state is also accepting students from the territory into its 67 county school districts. The Miami Herald reported that school districts are unclear how the state is calculating the distribution of supplemental funding for accepting displaced students.

Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in September, displacing many and leaving more than 90 percent of the island without power. It’s unclear how these challenges will affect students’ ability to get online and take advantage of FVS if they’re still in Puerto Rico.