Aid for Sept. 11 Fallout Addresses Varying Needs

By Joetta L. Sack — November 28, 2001 5 min read
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In the days following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, the U.S. Department of Education was quick to hand out checks to the states whose schools were likely to suffer direct consequences.

Now, more than two months later, as the total of $8.9 million in aid from the federal Project SERV program is just beginning to reach districts and schools, a wide contrast in needs is apparent as districts try to sort out their immediate and long-term plans.

Some districts say they need much more money, while others have been urged by their states to find projects related to the Sept. 11 events on which to spend the available aid.

In Lower Manhattan in New York City, schools are still struggling to help students and staff members cope with the loss of close family members and the horrific scenes many survivors witnessed when the World Trade Center was destroyed. Officials have had daunting practical tasks at the same time, such as relocating displaced schools and restoring phone service.

In Maryland, on the other hand, most of the $250,000 in grants from Project SERV—which stands for School Emergency Response to Violence—has gone to districts looking for more staff members to perform security duties, such as greeting visitors.

And New York state still has $350,000 left over from its $1.7 million allocation that its districts have not requested—but it is not allowed, under federal rules, to give that money to New York City.

The Education Department, under the relatively broad mission of Project SERV, has dispensed the money to help pay for emergency needs and counseling for the districts most heavily affected by the terrorism. (“Project SERV Funds Directed to Attacked Areas,” Oct. 3, 2001.)

Under the guidelines of the Project SERV program, which previously had dispensed money to districts that experienced school shootings, the federal government allows the recipients to decide how the money should be spent as long as it is directly related to the violence.

N.Y.C.'s Formula

In giving Project SERV funds to community school districts in New York City, for example, the board of education for the 1.1 million-student system chose to allot the $4.2 million in aid based on the number of students who had lost an immediate family member, with the money to be used mainly for counseling, said Francine B. Goldstein, the board’s chief executive for programs and support services. Under those rules, the city’s Staten Island district received the most money because many of the firefighters and police officers who were killed lived there.

Christy Cugini, the superintendent of Community School District 31 on Staten Island, said the $561,700 that her 40,700-student district received has been spent to hire full-time counselors for the rest of the school year to help the 250 students and 60 staff members who lost close relatives.

Paul A. Loughran, the deputy superintendent for operations for Community District 1, said the 8,300-student district had just received its $280,000 in federal aid and, so far, had provided emergency counseling to students at the junior high school that was closest to the World Trade Center site.

“The kids had a front-row seat to the whole incident,” he said.

He said the money would likely be used for mental-health services needed in the future. The district has already provided such services to traumatized students and faculty members, he said.

“Certainly, given the severity of the calamity, it could have been used earlier,” Mr. Loughran said of the federal money. “But the impact is just playing out now.”

Some of the Manhattan districts did receive additional aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and will likely still receive more, Ms. Goldstein said.

Meanwhile, districts near the Pentagon are using the Project SERV aid in many ways.

Virginia, which received $500,000, chose to award grants of up to $25,000 to districts seeking extra funding for purposes related to the terrorism. It has given eight grants so far to districts in northern Virginia, just outside Washington, and to the Norfolk district in the southeastern part of the state, which is the site of a large U.S. Navy base.

Charles Pyle, a state education department spokesman, said grants were given for a variety of needs, such as increased school security, counseling, and multicultural education.

Rather than giving a majority of the funds to Arlington, where the Pentagon is located, Virginia chose to spread the aid more widely.

“You have to understand, yes, the Pentagon is in Arlington, but the people affected by all this live in all the communities in northern Virginia,” Mr. Pyle said.

For example, he said, many children in Norfolk have seen one or both parents leave for active service or other military duties. That district will use the money to provide counseling, extended after-school programs, and other necessities for students at schools with high concentrations of military families.

The District of Columbia has begun using its $250,000 in Project SERV aid for preventive measures because of its proximity to the buildings and institutions in the nation’s capital that could face particular threats. The 67,000-student school system has sent its 200 counselors for additional training in bereavement and grief, adopted a “master of disaster” emergency-training curriculum for students in grades 3-8, and installed temporary security measures in some schools, said Diane E. Powell, the director of student intervention.

Little Competition Seen

Other states receiving the Project SERV aid generally said they had not seen much competition among districts for the money.

Maryland, which received $250,000, gave grants to eight districts that needed extra security for schools near military bases. When the Maryland Department of Education learned it would receive the federal funds, officials identified the eight districts most affected and asked officials of those districts to assess their needs and send in grant applications, said JoAnne L. Carter, the state’s assistant superintendent for student and school services.

New Jersey, which received $1.5 million, will announce its grants in the coming days. The state opened the competition to any district that wanted to apply, and extended its application deadlines when it had money left over, said spokesman Peter Peretzman.

And New York state doesn’t know what it will do with its leftover $350,000, said Gordon R. Odermann, an official with the state agency who helped review applications. The state allowed districts to apply for up to $50,000, and while some districts had urgent needs, some asked only for small amounts.

“If you looked at the applications, [they] didn’t smack of ‘we need all we can get,’” Mr. Odermann said.

Connecticut, which received $500,000, expects to award its grants in the coming weeks. It has received requests for about $900,000 in services and is still trying to determine the formula it will use to distribute the grants, said spokesman Thomas Murphy.

Staff Writer Catherine Gewertz contributed to this story.

A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 2001 edition of Education Week as Aid for Sept. 11 Fallout Addresses Varying Needs


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