School Climate & Safety

States Ease Rules for Tornado-Damaged Schools

By Ross Brenneman — May 06, 2011 1 min read
Charlotte Howell, guidance counselor at Hackleburg Elementary School in Hackleburg, Ala., looks into the central hallway of the school on April 30, days after after a tornado that demolished the town's entire school system swept through the area.

As state leaders assess the damage from a string of deadly tornadoes that swept across the South on April 27, school administrators are figuring out what happens next for students who have been displaced.

The storms claimed at least 329 lives, according to the Associated Press, and they heavily damaged or destroyed more than a dozen schools. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee were issued disaster declarations so they could access federal aid.

Alabama Superintendent of Education Joseph B. Morton informed local superintendents on April 28 that, despite a state law requiring a minimum of 180 full instructional days, efforts were under way to allow districts flexibility in the wake of natural disasters. Gov. Robert Bentley signed that legislation a few days later.

The tornadoes left a trail of destruction across Alabama. In Tuscaloosa, three schools had massive damage. In nearby Hackleburg, the roofs of the high school and elementary school were gone, and insulation littered the floors. Schools in at least four other districts were heavily damaged.

“You will face displaced families, devastated employees and families, and extremely challenging logistical issues in the days and weeks ahead,” Mr. Morton wrote. “I know each of you will reach out to those affected and make any accommodations possible.”

Mississippi lost two schools. Students from Smithville’s high school and East Webster High School, in Maben, were moved into available space at nearby schools to finish the year.

In Georgia, where at least one school was destroyed, the state school board was considering dismissing students for the remainder of the year at schools with major damage.

“We can’t replace all those lives lost,” Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said, “but we can give districts flexibility.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2011 edition of Education Week

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