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Haiti unrest forces DeWine's tuition-free schools to close doors

The Becky DeWine School in Cite Soleil
Gov. Mike DeWine's Office
The Becky DeWine School in Cite Soleil

Unrest in Haiti has swelled in recent weeks, shutting the doors of the Becky DeWine network of schools in Cite Soleil, a part of Port-au-Prince long afflicted with extreme poverty and gang violence.

Father Tom Hagan, a Catholic priest, founded the tuition-free schools—which now have more than 10,000 students across buildings—and the charity that oversees them in the 1990s. Hagan dedicated them to Gov. Mike and First Lady Fran DeWine's daughter Becky, who died in a 1993 car accident at 22 years old.

DeWine said Hagan has lost teachers and students to violence over the years, but that the situation right now is dire.

“The violence is just absolutely horrible. He (Hagan) describes it as the worst he has seen in the 25 years that he has been down there,” DeWine told members of the media March 13.

Humanitarian aid is dwindling in Haiti, as gangs have taken over much of Port-au-Prince. The country's prime minister, who has been stranded in Puerto Rico, has said he plans to resign once a transitional presidential council is put in place.

The schools go beyond education—offering meals and recreation, care for the elderly, continuing education, and jobs, according to the website for Hands Together, Hagan's overarching charity. “These kids deserve to have a school, they deserve to get fed,” DeWine said.

Although the DeWines have visited about 20 times, they haven’t gone back in the last three or four years, he said.

The 2010 earthquake shuttered the schools for about three months, according to the website.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at