About 84,000 students from the southeastern region of Texas will be out of school for the foreseeable future, as cities such as Beaumont and Port Arthur and smaller towns surrounding those areas assess the damage caused by Hurricane Rita. The storm also forced schools to remain closed in parts of southwest Louisiana.
Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, the spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said she had heard from a state board of education member who lives in southeast Texas that he was told not to expect electricity for a month.
“A lot of the communications are down in that region,” said Ms. Ratcliffe.
Districts throughout the coastal region of Texas had closed and residents were asked to evacuate as the hurricane appeared to bear down on the Galveston area. However, before landfall, the hurricane shifted to the east, striking hardest along the Texas-Louisiana border on Sept. 23 and 24. Several districts that had closed, including the 210,000-student Houston district and the 9,100-student Galveston district, plan to reopen this week.
Ms. Ratcliffe said that the state education agency had already mobilized many of its hurricane-related emergency plans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but that it was still waiting to hear back from districts about the extent of the damages from Rita. She said the state has told schools that they won’t have to make up days missed because of the hurricane.
But she said the hurricane “has raised an enormous amount of questions” about how schools are doing, what they’ll need to reopen, and what policy waivers they might need.
Waiting for Damage Assessments
Portions of southwest Louisiana also took a pounding from Rita, forcing school closures, both in that region and other areas, such as Baton Rouge, where the storm was far less severe. The extent of damage to schools in Louisiana was unavailable Sept. 26.
“They haven’t given us any damage assessment here,” said Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Education. But, she added, “We haven’t heard from school districts yet that they’re completely destroyed.”
Ms. Casper noted that in three southwest Louisiana parishes—Calcasieu, Cameron, and Vermilion—residents were not yet allowed to return. She said state offices were closed Sept. 26 in 19 Louisiana parishes, and that typically when state offices are closed, so are the public schools.
She emphasized that decisions to close schools were up to local districts, not the state.
Ms. Casper pointed out that two of the parishes hard hit by Hurricane Rita—Cameron and Calcasieu—each had taken in more than 1,000 students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
The public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish, which serves the city of Baton Rouge, were closed Friday, Sept. 23, and again on Monday, Sept. 26. The district incurred some significant power outages in school buildings.
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, meanwhile, was scheduled to have its first post-Katrina meeting on Sept. 27.