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 declared disaster areas so they could access federal aid.
Alabama Superintendent of Education Joseph B. Morton informed local superintendents the day after the tornado 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 to the school leaders. “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, the state school board was considering dismissing students for the remainder of the year at schools with major damage. At least one school in the state was destroyed.
“We can’t replace all those lives lost,” a Georgia education department spokesman Matt Cardoza said last week, “but we can give districts flexibility.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2011 edition of Education Week as Tornadoes Rip Apart Southern Schools