“The Spirit is There”

“When can I go back to school?”

When that experience is disrupted, getting back to school can mean everything to students. And the adults who care for them — parents, educators and civic leaders — feel a special urgency.

For our fellow Americans in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, including more than 410,000 students in grades K-12, the 2017 hurricane season severely disrupted those reliable routines. First Irma hit, leaving more than one million people — nearly a third of the population on an island the size of Connecticut — without power. Two weeks later, María followed: one meteorologist likened its impact to a tornado, 50 miles wide, cutting a path of devastation through cities, towns and countryside.

In a three-week period, I travelled twice to visit Puerto Rico — the second time with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

We wanted to see conditions on the ground in the aftermath of the worst storm to hit the island in nearly a century, and provide support to the Puerto Rico Department of Education in its efforts to rebuild.

Since Irma and María slammed the region, our Department team has been in near-daily contact with local officials, coordinating closely with other federal and relief agencies. We’ve provided technical assistance and waived burdensome regulations that would increase costs and slow down recovery. We’ve provided an initial grant and are working with the White House and Congress to provide much greater emergency funding.

We’ve sent staff — thus far, dispatching ten Department employees on temporary assignment to support revitalization efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Still, we knew we needed to learn firsthand how the Federal government, with a host of national, State, local and charitable organizations, can best help the people of Puerto Rico get back to school, get back to normal and emerge stronger than before the storms.

Read more about Acting Assistant Secretary Botel’s visits to Puerto Rico on Medium


Jason Botel is Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education