Flood of Russia-Ukraine war refugees leads to severe overcrowding at Miami-Dade school

sunny isles
Norman S. Edelcup Sunny Isles Beach K-8 Center

By Francisco Alvarado,

Overcrowding at a Miami-Dade elementary and middle school is so severe, students are crammed into classrooms and rats roam the cafeteria grounds, parents and teachers say.

Why? School district officials are violating a state constitutional amendment limiting the number of children per class.

Norman S. Edelcup Sunny Isles Beach K-8 Center is operating at 31 percent over capacity, and more new students are piling in midway through the school year, according to parents and teachers interviewed by Florida Bulldog. They accuse Miami-Dade County Public Schools regional administrators of failing to enforce district policy that requires students to live in the neighborhood where a school is located, while ignoring their pleas to follow state law that mandates a maximum of 18 students per classroom.

The current student headcount is 2,317 while the school is supposed to have only 1,769 kids, according to Miami-Dade County Public Schools data as of Dec. 19, 2022. Another two dozen students enrolled in January.

“Norman Edelcup is dealing with a perfect storm of an education disaster,” said Johana Rabinovich, the mother of two Norman Edelcup students. “We are the number one overcrowded K-8 center in Miami-Dade while dealing with a shortage of teachers and custodians.”

“To call it chaos is kind,” added Norman Edelcup teacher Elizabeth Perdomo. “I currently have 31 kids in my class. And we keep getting more and more students enrolled. Teachers can’t give the children the attention they deserve because we have so many students.”

In an email response to Florida Bulldog questions, Miami-Dade Public Schools spokeswoman Ana Rhodes confirmed that Norman Edelcup is overcrowded, but disputed the complaints that the school district is not addressing the problem and that the K-8 center’s staff is overwhelmed.

“While class size is high in certain sections, the teachers are managing their learning environment and the students are safe,” Rhodes said. “Sunny Isles K-8 has been identified as a priority school by the Office of Human Capital as it pertains to the staffing and hiring of instructional staff. As additional teachers are hired, new sections are created, and class size is reduced. This is a priority at this time.”


In 2002, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that limited the maximum number of students in core classes such as math, English and science. For students in kindergarten through third grade, the cap is 18 students. For grades four through eight, the cap size is 22 students, and for grades nine through 12, the cap size is 25 students. The law went into effect in the 2010-2011 school year.

Parent Andreas Vlahos spoke out about overcrowding at a Jan. 19 parents’ meeting at Norman Edelcup school.

Since then, Miami-Dade Public Schools has had a hard time following the state law at Norman Edelcup, which opened in 2008. The K-8 center has been operating at overcapacity except for its first two years of existence. The school’s class sizes regularly exceed the state-mandated caps. And the current school year is on pace to beat 2021-2022’s 127 percent capacity rate, according to Miami-Dade Public Schools data.

In the five months ending in January, Norman Edelcup has experienced 262 new student registrations, including 24 last month, the data shows. Close to half of the new students hail from Russia and Ukraine, two Eastern European countries locked in a devastating war since the former invaded the latter about a year ago. The school has also accepted nine new students from Belarus, a Russian military ally that is bordering Ukraine.

“Miami-Dade County Public Schools has a longstanding history of welcoming all students to our school district,” Rhodes, the district spokeswoman, said. “We have recently been experiencing an influx of immigrant students across the district.”

According to the school district’s data, 2,227 students at Norman Edelcup reside in Sunny Isles Beach. That means roughly 10 percent of the city’s population of 22,342 people are children spending five days a week at the K-8 center.

During a Jan. 19 parents’ meeting at Norman Edelcup with the school district’s advisory boundary committee, Andreas Vlahos displayed graphs that illustrated how dramatic the overcrowding at his childrens’ school has gotten. Vlahos, who has a son in kindergarten and a daughter in the third grade, compiled the graphs using enrollment data that is publicly available on Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ website.

“It is remarkable how much overcapacity we are compared to other schools,” Vlahos told Florida Bulldog. “It is totally unacceptable.”

One of Vlahos’s graphs shows that six out of 58 Miami-Dade K-8 centers are at overcapacity, and Norman Edelcup takes the top spot by a wide margin. Winston Park K-8 Center in unincorporated Southwest Miami-Dade, the second most overcrowded one, is operating at about 10 percent over capacity, the graph shows.


Vlahos, Rabinovich and Perdomo allege that top bureaucrats in the school district’s north region, which oversees Norman Edelcup, have blocked the K-8 center’s administrators from conducting address verifications, and won’t crack down on parents who live outside the city providing fraudulent documentation as proof of residence.

As part of its residency requirement policy, Miami-Dade Public Schools warns parents that they could possibly face a criminal misdemeanor charge if they knowingly make “a false statement in writing with the intent to mislead a public servant in the performance of his or her official duty.”

“We know a very large proportion of enrolled students do not live in Sunny Isles Beach,” Vlahos said. “A large number of parents either falsify addresses or at one point lived here, but have since moved and still have their kids at the school.”

Sunny Isles Beach Commissioner Fabiola Stuyvesant

Sunny Isles Beach Commissioner Fabiola Stuyvesant, whose son is a Norman Edelcup eighth- grader, told Florida Bulldog that the school district is ignoring a 2016 interlocal agreement with the city to conduct address verifications of all the K-8 center’s students. A year later, Sunny Isles Beach City Commission passed a resolution giving a $76,725 grant to the school district for that purpose.

Sunny Isles Beach officials wanted the school district to provide a monthly report with the number of students who are verified as actually living in the city and the number of those who were determined to live outside the boundary, according to a city memo. The city also wanted the school district to relocate those students living outside the boundary to their proper schools.

Stuyvesant believes the school district is not doing any address verification because no one from Miami-Dade Public Schools has verified where she lives for more than a decade, she said. Her daughter, who is now a high school senior, also attended Norman Edelcup between 2011 and 2019. “We have never gotten any reports,” Stuyvesant said. “There is no accountability.”


For instance, in May 2021, Stuyvesant provided north region superintendent Verena Cabrera and her staff with property tax bills showing that two sets of parents who have a total of five children attending Norman Edelcup do not reside in Sunny Isles Beach.The north region allowed those five students to remain at Norman Edelcup, Stuyvesant said. (Cabrera did not respond to a Florida Bulldog phone message seeking comment.)

Miami-Dade Schools north region superintendent Verena Cabrera

Perdomo, who teaches a fifth-grade English language class to immigrant students, said Norman Edelcup Principal Melissa Mesa had prepared stacks of address verification letters about two months ago that teachers were supposed to hand out to students suspected of not living in Sunny Isles Beach.

“Somehow the district found out and they stopped her,” Perdomo said. “Our principal was not able to verify the students who live outside the boundary that we know of.”

School district spokeswoman Rhodes asserted that it has no record of Stuyvesant providing north region staff with her documentation about the parents not residing in Sunny Isles Beach.

“It is the responsibility of the parents to provide proper documentation to verify their residence,” Rhodes said. “Currently, there is no agreement as it pertains to address verification.”


As the student population mushroomed at Norman Edelcup, the school district has failed to provide a safe and healthy environment because there is not enough custodial and maintenance personnel for the K-8 center’s upkeep, the parents alleged.

“The rat infestation is so bad that they are running outside the cafeteria grounds during the day,” said Rabinovich, who is also a former Sunny Isles Beach city commissioner. “The school district’s response is that Norman Edelcup is by the water, so it’s normal to see rats.”

Perdomo echoed Rabinovich’s complaint about the rats, noting that she’s seen rodents in the patio outside the cafeteria because there is an extra amount of discarded food that doesn’t get  cleaned up. “The school district needs to get a handle on the situation,” Perdomo said. “They need to have severe pest control to get rid of them.”

Rhodes told Florida Bulldog that the rat problem was taken care of. “All health and sanitation protocols have been followed,” she said. “There is no rat infestation at the school.”

While Rhodes downplayed the overcrowding and other problems at Norman Edelcup, the elected official whose district includes the K-8 center said that big changes are taking place to reduce the number of students at the school.

On Feb. 3, Principal Mesa notified her entire staff, including teachers, that next week the school and the north region will begin requesting that all parents submit two documents showing proof of residence, according to an email Mesa sent out.

“Now that this issue has come to a head, we are working to ensure conditions at Norman Edelcup are up to par,” said Miami-Dade Public Schools Board member Lucia Baez-Geller. “I have been guaranteed that district staff are putting together all the requested actions by the parents, including address verification, stricter enrollment rules and greater oversight on the process.”

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Latest comments

  • The Biden administration prevented a negotiated settlement between Russia and Ukraine early on in the conflict. Money, power, greed, and graft is the modus operandi of the Biden admin, the deep state, and most of government all around the world. Like the Borg Collective, even newly elected entries into our government become assimilated!

  • Thanks for this great article and thanks for representing the voice of the school, parents and teachers claiming support to resolve this chaotic situation at Norman S. Edelcup K-8 Elementary School

  • I live in Sunny Isles and attended the meeting mentioned in the article. The title of the article is horriblely misleading and racist. The problem has nothing to do with being Russian or Ukrainian. It is completely due to nonenforcement of address verification. As you can read from the article, the school has been overcrowded since 2010 and nothing has been done. The Miami Dade school district should enforce the current address verification and ask for verification every year. May I suggest an accurate title? “Extreme Overcrowding in Sunny Isles Beach K-8 Points to Years of Negligence by Miami Dade School District ” I know from first hand experience that if all the students who did not live in Sunny Isles returned to their correct school, Norman S. Edelcup would not be anywhere near overcrowded.

  • So, why a Sunny Isles Beach school? Are their immigration sponsors enrolling the Ukrainian and Russian refugees there for some reason?

  • When I read the headline, I expected the story to explore the stories of the refugees and to explain why they gravitated to this school. Instead, as a previous commenter pointed out, it’s a tale of typical Miami-Dade Schools’ incompetence and misfeasance in verifying students’ addresses and providing proper staffing.
    Going by the numbers presented, Norman Edelcup K-8 was already seriously overcrowded prior to the refugee influx. Miami-Dade Schools’ stonewalling is to be expected, but even without the refugee angle the bottom line is that the story raises more questions than it answers. The Bulldog usually does better than this.

  • It’s not the overcrowding of Immigrants, it’s overcrowding of students because of the incompetence of school address verification or care of in previous years. Fact is, unfortunately parents are good at faking the address-evidence. In my line of work in SIB, I have seen so many fake Utility Bills, Leases etc given to me for evidence and it is outrages. They look almost original but you have to know what to look for to spot them.
    Dr Weissman, a prior Principal in SIB K-8 once said she can’t punish the parents and children if they want to attend this amazing school when this issue was presented to her many years ago, we have had 2 new principles since then.

  • The article points out the problem which was probably below the radar of citizens who do not have children attending the school

    It would be interesting to see if the followup suggested by school admininistrators leads to a lessening of the problem in the coming months now that some light has been shed.

    Congratualtions to the Bulldog.

    It would be intgeresting to me personally to learn how the Russian and Ukranian students interact with each other and whether there is any friction caused by the war and the differing information or disinformation put out by their governmnents has affecgted them at this age.

    Investigative reporting is so rare and underfunded that I applaud any story that tells me something I don’t know without trying to influence me with misinformation.

    Kudos, Dan. I worked at the Herald while you were there and I’m proud of you.

  • Sunny Isles Beach’s Normal Edelcup elementary school was considered among the best schools in the past.

    The high rating is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways for Sunny Isles Beach and the school.
    That attention on our school resulted in students coming from other communities that should not be attending the school.

    They are referred to as “district jumpers.”

    In part, the reason for this starts with Sunny Isles Beach residents allowing their addresses to be used by those district jumpers so they can get into the school.

    Because of the weak language in the “Interlocal agreement” between the school board and SIB, the school board is in control, Not Sunny Isles Beach.

    And the school board is unwilling to police those coming into the school who are not SIB residents.

    Resulting in overcrowded classes and increased traffic. The traffic is another major out-of-control issue in Sunny Isles Beach.

    Stuyvesant has been a nightmare herself to the community.

  • Wait until the epidemic of HIV/AIDS takes over. Ukraine has one of the highest number of cases in the world and has the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases of females 14 years old and younger. And these are just the people receiving treatment.
    Personally, I cannot believe how many Americans are falling for and supporting this. US tax payers provided raises for the Ukrainian government workers while Zelensky does not even pay taxes putting his money in offshore accounts. Zelensky as well as France and Germany admit they had no intention of honoring the Minsk agreements when they signed them, the majority of weapons given to them end up on the black market and let’s not continue ignoring the swastika wearing Ukrainian military.
    The CIA/MOSSAD overthrew the legally elected government in 2013-14. They installed a monster who outlawed the Russian language and begin bombing the Russian speaking Ukrainian citizens, cut off their pensions, imprisoned the Christian leaders, all with the support of both Republicans and Democrats. By the time Russia sent troops in (2022) the Ukrainian government had murdered over 14,000 Russian speaking Ukrainians including over 120 babies.
    BTW Zelensky was a Russian speaker and had to learn the Ukrainian language.
    Think about this. US politicians, high ranking military officials and their supporters become millionaires from their personal Investments in the same ” defense” corporations they hand billion dollar NO BID CONTRACTS every year! There is no profit in peace.
    Watch the interviews with Col Macgregor for factual information.
    The US military has spent the past 20 years having their asses handed to them by the Taliban. The US has not won a war without Russia/Soviet Union as an ally since before ww1.
    There is only one country with over 800 military bases and has been involved in the overthrow of almost 100 nations. Of course, they never fight nations with real militaries. China and Russia are not the bad guys here. Wake up before your own children are sent to fight another for profit war.

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