Houston-Area Schools Welcome Evacuated New Orleans Students

Rules to be waived; retired teachers called in to serve an influx of teachers
By Christina A. Samuels — September 02, 2005 2 min read

Includes updates and/or revisions

In buses and in cars, by the dozens and by the hundreds, the students left homeless by Hurricane Katrina’s devastation are arriving in Houston.

When Texas officials announced on Aug. 31 that the state would provide a haven for Louisiana residents in the 45,000-seat Astrodome, emergency coordinators thought they might have to absorb 5,000 children into Houston-area schools. Then, the count rose to 8,000.

“Today, we just don’t know,” John E. Sawyer, the superintendent of the Harris County Department of Education, said on Sept. 1. The department is coordinating the efforts of the 26 school districts in the Houston area, all of which may see students from the storm-damaged regions.

The Astrodome will house most of the New Orleans residents who rode out the hurricane in that city’s Superdome.

Even before the New Orleans evacuees arrived, Houston-area school districts were seeing the effects of Hurricane Katrina. A spokesman for the 55,000-student Aldine district said a teacher rounded up 10 children from her neighborhood who had fled the storm before it hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

In the 12,000-student North Forest district, in northeast Harris County, 650 out-of-town students showed up to register on Aug. 31, Mr. Sawyer said.

A day later, a group of teenagers and children in a school bus they had apparently commandeered arrived ahead of the rest of the Superdome refugees, seeking shelter. They were accepted into the Astrodome, news reports said.

Able to Help

New Orleans students will be accepted under the federal law governing the education of homeless children, which waives residency requirements. Districts have set aside policies such as those requiring full immunization records, and teachers who retired in recent years have been pressed into service, said Gayle Fallon, the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers.

Authorities first thought they might hold classes for the evacuees in the Astrodome itself, Mr. Sawyer said. Now, it appears that the Louisiana residents will eventually be moved to smaller shelters around the city and children will enroll in nearby schools.

Most of the evacuated students will be absorbed into the Houston district, the state’s largest, with an enrollment of about 209,000.

“We have the resources to do it,” said Terry Abbott, the spokesman for the Houston district. “We feel like we’re really going to be able to help these kids.”