School Climate & Safety

States Thrown for a Loop By Acts of Terrorism

By Alan Richard — September 19, 2001 5 min read
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Education-related decisions were put on hold in several states last week as the nation recovered from the terrorism directed against the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington.

In the state most deeply affected, New York lawmakers had their plans for a special legislative session thrown into disarray. Many local school leaders had been hoping that legislators would act promptly to send their districts more money for this school year.

Two states—South Carolina and Washington—delayed the release of test scores. And state education departments heightened security or closed altogether in several places, including California and Florida. The most obvious impact was felt in New York—where two hijacked airliners destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, killing thousands.

Resources for Educators States Thrown for a Loop by Acts of Terrorism Crisis Shelves President's Focus on Education D.C. Teachers, Students Die in Pentagon Crash Schools for Military, Diplomatic Offspring Tighten Security Fearing Potential for Backlash, Islamic Schools Step Up Security 'Oh My God, I Can't Believe This' Schools Struggle With What to Tell Students About a Day of Terror On Disaster's Doorstep, Schools Strain to Cope As Crisis Unfolds, Educators Balance Intricate Demands Terror Touches Schools

Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, had called lawmakers back to the state capital of Albany for a special session starting Sept. 12, with the goal of discussing a supplement to the state’s $79.6 billion budget for the current fiscal year. They did reconvene that day—one day after the attack—but concentrated mainly on disaster-related issues.

Legislators have been considering competing plans to add to the budget approved last month. The budget included a $382 million increase for public education that many lawmakers and educators view as too small.

“The impasse continues,” said David Ernst, the chief spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association in Albany. Following the disaster in Manhattan, he added, budget talks might have slipped in priority for many lawmakers.

States of Emergency

In Virginia, Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III declared a state of emergency. As home to the Pentagon, located across the Potomac River from Washington in Arlington, Va., the state includes many schools with ties to military families and government workers directly affected by the attack on the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters.

One hundred miles south, in the state capital of Richmond, security was tightened at the education department and other government buildings.

Only state buildings that also house federal government offices were closed on Sept. 11, said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education. Employees at the James Monroe Building, which houses the state education agency in downtown Richmond, could not enter the building without showing proper identification.

“I can’t say that people were focused like they normally would have been,” Mr. Pyle said. “It’s a shock to everyone to have had one of these attacks happen in Virginia.”

In Maryland’s state capital of Annapolis—about 35 miles west of Washington—Gov. Parris Glendening declared a state of emergency, allowing local school districts to close if they wished.

The Democrat ordered the Statehouse evacuated on the day of the attacks after a telephone caller claiming to be a federal worker said the building was on a list of terrorist targets. Later, the threat was determined to be a hoax, and a man was arrested. The Statehouse reopened the day after the attacks.

Plans went awry for President Bush, who was speaking at an elementary school in Sarasota, Fla., when he received news of the attacks. He quickly made a statement, then left for air bases in Louisiana and Nebraska before returning to the White House that evening.

Lauren Cain, a spokeswoman for the Florida board of education, said the 22-story state Capitol in Tallahassee and the 17-floor State Education Center there were evacuated. The state’s universities and community colleges also closed for the day.

Most Florida school districts maintained K-12 classes, Ms. Cain said, but districts across the state cancelled sporting events.

Across the country in California, state legislators and many state employees were evacuated in the state capital of Sacramento, said Doug Stone, the chief spokesman for the California Department of Education. He works two blocks from the Capitol. Security workers even used special mirrors to search the Capitol for anything suspicious. School closings were decided locally.

State Superintendent Delaine Eastin was to fly to Compton, Calif., near Los Angeles, to announce that the state had restored local control to that school district. Instead, her flight was grounded, and she released the order by facsimile. What normally would have been a major story for the California news media was relegated to newspaper back pages by the attacks on the East Coast, Mr. Stone said.

Scores Delayed

In South Carolina, the much-anticipated release of scores on the state’s new test was delayed for a day, to Sept. 12. Staff members at Pineview Elementary School in West Columbia, S.C., had prepared to host a news conference on the morning of Sept. 11 with state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum. But because the disastrous events unfolded shortly before that scheduled event, officials chose to release the test scores—which will be used to tabulate South Carolina’s first-ever grades on school-by-school report cards—the next day at a state school board meeting.

“It was obvious that it would not be the time for the state of South Carolina to celebrate the release of test scores,” said Venus J. Holland, an assistant superintendent in Lexington County School District 2, home to Pineview Elementary.

Washington state also delayed its release of test scores until last Friday, Sept. 14. The release had been scheduled for the morning of the attacks.

“It was simply out of respect for what was going on on the East Coast,” said Kim Schmanke, a spokeswoman for the Washington state education department. Test scores didn’t seem to be all that important “in the whole big picture of things” last week, she said.

Michigan postponed a state conference on school leadership, while decisions about school closings there were made by districts, said Thomas J. Bucholz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education.

North Carolina’s legislature remained in session, though, still working on a long-overdue state budget. Highway patrol officers were stationed at parking garages near the state Capitol in Raleigh, even though security had generally been tightened since a bomb threat at the complex two weeks ago, said Vanessa Jeter, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

“There hasn’t been any reason to suspect we’re in any real danger,” she said. “I think we’ve had enough for this century.”

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