As disaster recovery efforts begin to take shape in areas along the path of Hurricane Ike’s destruction, many areas, particularly in the Galveston and Houston areas, remain uninhabitable. Other communities face continued power outages, flooding and lack of safe drinking water.
While it is still too early to even estimate the magnitude of the damage caused by Hurricane Ike, one reality is that hundreds of thousands of students will be affected. Some will face an extended absence from school, and many could end up enrolling in other school districts, particularly if they have been relocated.
The Texas Education Agency web site maintains a list of known school closings due to Hurricane Ike, as does the Louisiana Department of Education. Since some schools are still without means of communication, the list is not 100% complete and up-to-date, particularly in those areas where the storm caused the greatest harm.
Several schools on the TEA list of closures are closed indefinitely due to “extensive damage.”
In these cases, individual circumstances will determine the next steps. “Parents who have evacuated Galveston, Houston, and other hardest-hit areas will have to make a personal judgment call at this point regarding their children’s schooling,” says Susan Marchman of the Texas Education Agency.
“Many schools in these areas have every intention to be back up and running,” she explains, “but depending on the extent of the damage and amount of time without electricity or water, many will experience a delay in re-enrollment.” In some situations, schools may not be able to re-open until spring, or perhaps even next fall – if at all.
The TEA is still in the process of determining what happens if a school is unable to reopen, although chances are that in these hardest-hit areas, those students whose schools were destroyed also lost their homes.
The McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act ensures educational protections for youth that are homeless, as defined by a broad array of inadequate living situations, including natural disasters. Under this federal law, which was enacted in 1987, these children can register and attend school in the area where they are physically located. If a child meets the definition of homeless, as many evacuees will, they will be entitled to attend classes, and receive transportation to and from the school they are attending – regardless of their “official” residence.
Schools that receive an influx of students will have to make adjustments as well, from ordering additional textbooks and other materials, to coping with potentially crowded classrooms. If a school receives more than 50 students, the TEA will adjust their funding.
As recovery efforts continue, the fate of those affected schools will become clearer, as will their ripple effects – on students, teachers, and their communities.