At our opening day program in September, I commented about some of the recent changes at the federal, state and local level. This includes:

  • New York State’s submission of its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan;
  • Revisions to the state standards in ELA and math;
  • The continued rollout of the social studies framework and Next Generation of Science Standards; and,
  • New leadership in our region including 5 new superintendents and more than 20 new board members over the past year.

At Questar III, we have been helping our school districts navigate change for the past 40 years – and the past 60 years as individual county BOCES. However, sometimes change comes from natural forces that we cannot control – and we must come together to help those in need.

In September, I also asked staff to reflect on the devastation that Hurricane Harvey brought to Texas. Little did I know that there would be so many other natural disasters following Harvey. Think about the damage that Hurricane Irma brought to Florida, Hurricane Maria brought to Puerto Rico and the wildfires in California.

These events changed the lives of countless Americans in an instant. For me, the devastation in Puerto Rico is particularly distressing. I grew up in Puerto Rico and still have many friends and family members living there, including my elderly mother.

The hardships and complications faced by our fellow Americans, whether on the island of Puerto Rico or the mainland, from these acts of nature are numerous. They include the loss of power and basic services, the loss of their homes and everything familes have worked for during their lifetimes, the loss of instruction and the decline in health and safety.

In New York State, the State Education Department (SED) is preparing school districts for the possible displacement of Puerto Ricans. This includes both students and teachers.

At their October meeting, the Board of Regents took action to allow teachers displaced by Hurricane Maria to obtain temporary nonrenewable teaching certification in New York State. The regulations allow for alternative forms of proof of certification and recent employment to obtain a temporary certificate.

SED also issued guidance to districts regarding the rights of students displaced by the recent natural disasters, as well as available services. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, a federal law that details the educational rights of students in temporary housing, likely protects students who are temporarily displaced due to disaster. Under the McKinney-Vento Act, students in temporary housing can enroll immediately in a school in the district where they are temporarily living even if they do not have the documents normally needed or missed enrollment deadlines. In addition, these displaced children are eligible for free school meals, Title 1 services, and services to support students with disabilities and English language learners.

I applaud New York State for taking action – issuing guidance and making accommodations – for those impacted by Mother Nature.

The Capital Region has faced her wrath before including tornados, tropical storms, Nor’easters, ice storms and others. Those of you who were around for the 1987 snowstorm (that left 200,000 without power for weeks) will know this firsthand. Now, imagine going months without power and access to the things we take for granted.

Extraordinary events and times demand extraordinary leadership and service to others. I am pleased that the state is taking the steps to assist those in need.

Learn how you can help:

Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent
Questar III BOCES