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Report Applauds Miami's Treatment of Cuban Boatlift Children

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Public schools in Dade County, Fla., were "largely" successful in coping with a rapid and unprecedented influx of refugee children from Cuba in 1980, a federally funded report has concluded.

But the report contends that the federal government had to be "coerced" into providing assistance, and suggests that new federal policies are needed to respond to emergency situations in communities faced with a "massive wave of refugees."

The 1980 contingent of refugees who arrived by boat from Mariel, Cuba, doubled the district's limited-English-proficient population and severely strained its resources, ac-cording to the report, produced by the Cuban American National Foundation, a Washington-based clearinghouse for information on Cuba and Cuban exiles that supports "the concept of a free and democratic Cuba."

But even as South Florida adjusted to the 125,000 new refugees, "the federal government failed to assume full responsibility in the aftermath of the exodus, leaving the local communities to fend for themselves," states the report, entitled The Children of Mariel.

The study, supported in part by the U.S. Education Department with a grant provided under Title VII, the Bilingual Education Act, applauds the efforts of the Dade8County school district to accommodate the Cuban and Haitian refugee students, who totaled more than 16,000 by the spring of 1981.

The district's experience with the Mariel children, the report says, "was a textbook lesson on how an educational institution cut red tape and mobilized its human resources to handle an emergency: a flood of unexpected and unwanted children from a different culture who spoke another language."

13,000 in Five Months

According to the study, there were 13,446 limited-English-proficient students in the county's public schools at the end of the 1979-80 school year, before the arrival of the Mariel children. By the end of the 1981-82 school year, the report states, the Mariel children had increased the number of limited-English-proficient students in the district by 12,910, or 96 percent.

In addition to their sheer numbers, the rapidity with which the students arrived also taxed the district, according to the study. "When school opened ... in September 1980, there were over 13,000 refugee students enrolled who had not been in the United States five months before."

To cope with the influx, the district hired 668 new teachers and 50 new aides for the 1980-81 school year. Children squeezed into district schools, with one 500-student school serving nearly 1,300 students.

Federal Assistance

In the end, the district's actual cost to provide all of its limited-English-proficient students with the "basic curriculum provided every student" increased by $26.6 million between the 1979-80 and 1981-82 school years, the report says.

Federal assistance to the county for education of the refugee children amounted to $3.3 million during the 1980-81 school year and $2.8 million in the 1981-82 school year--a total of $6.1 million, the report states. In addition, the district funneled a portion of its federal and state-supported administrative4funds into the refugee program.

Although favorable in its assessment of the school district's efforts to educate the Mariel children, the report calls for follow-up studies of the children, "to determine the degree of their integration into the student bodies of the South Florida public schools, [and] to trace their growth and acculturation into the society as a whole."

The lack of such research "makes it difficult to measure the school systems' success in assimilating the children of Mariel, and to identify the drop-out rate of those students once they reach high school," the report notes.

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