School Climate & Safety

Schools in Iowa, Minn., and Wis. Cope With Mississippi Flooding

By Catherine Gewertz — April 25, 2001 | Corrected: February 23, 2019 3 min read

Corrected: Wabasha-Kellogg High School is located in Wabasha, Minn.

Some high school students in the Midwest skipped class to help sandbag buildings in flood-threatened towns along the Mississippi River last week, as rising waters closed some schools and turned others into shelters.

The river, swollen by abundant rainfall and melting snow, was cresting at 4 feet or more above flood stage last week, turning low-lying lands into shallow ponds that forced hundreds in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to flee and many more to frantically run water pumps.

The Mississippi had crested near towns in southern Minnesota, but was still rising to the south, with peaks expected last weekend and this week. By late last week, the floodwaters had had only a moderate impact on schools in most towns along the river, though forecasts of more rain heightened concerns.

In St. Paul, Minn., district officials said schools were unaffected by the rising waters last week, though some parks and the city’s downtown airport were swamped. The Minneapolis schools also were unaffected.

But in cities and towns all along the river, students turned out over the past two weeks to help those in trouble.

Students in Wabasha, Minn., 90 miles southeast of Minneapolis, were a typical example. The week before last, as the river crested there, about 120 of the 450 students from Wabasha- Kellogg High School joined a dozen staff members in taking time off school to fill 11,000 sandbags that were used to shore up a dike protecting houses from the river, Principal Jane Johnson said.

“The students have been just wonderful,” she said last week.

Ten teachers who live on the Wisconsin side of the river had to drive 80 miles or more to find a passable crossing, Ms. Johnson added.

District Closed

Last week, to the south in Fountain City, Wis., the one-school, 800-student Cochrane-Fountain City district was closed when the main roads to the school, which serves several towns in the area, were flooded. High school secretary Mary Engler said students were disappointed when the prom, scheduled for April 21, had to be postponed until May 12.

Another 30 miles south, Logan Middle School in La Crosse, Wis., became an American Red Cross shelter, with a gym full of cots awaiting anyone in need, said Jerry Kember, the school district’s associate superintendent for instruction. Only a few people used the shelter, but it was being left in place in anticipation of more rain, school officials said.

The 7,700-student La Crosse district includes one school on French Island, in the Mississippi River, and buses there had to be rerouted because a key road was flooded, said Principal Dirk Hunter. Only a few children were absent from the 330-student Summit Elementary School, even though some students whose homes’ basements or first floors were flooded were staying with friends, Mr. Hunter said.

An hour’s drive south along the river, the Red Cross set up a shelter inside Bluff View Elementary School in Prairie du Chien, Wis. Portions of the town were under water, and some homes were without electricity. But as of late last week, there were no takers for the three dozen cots set up at the school or for the meals being offered there, according to Red Cross volunteer Heather Sonsalla.

In Davenport, Iowa, the schools were open, although some riverfront areas were swamped. Christie Wallace Noring, a spokeswoman for the 16,800- student district, said that high school students—and even a group of 5th graders—last week helped sandbag the historic business district of east Davenport, which lies near the river.

Ross Bergen, the emergency manager for Scott County, which includes Davenport, said none of the area’s schools was located in the flood plain. The river wasn’t expected to crest in the area until this week, but Mr. Bergen said he did not expect area schools to be affected.

A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2001 edition of Education Week as Schools in Iowa, Minn., and Wis. Cope With Mississippi Flooding

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