Federal

Hurricane Recovery Proves Slow Going

By Mary Ann Zehr & Erik W. Robelen — September 23, 2008 4 min read
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Dozens of Texas school districts are likely to be closed indefinitely as they struggle to recover from Hurricane Ike, which devastated the Gulf Coast and caused disruption into the Midwest.

District officials in Galveston, Texas, which suffered some of the most significant damage, haven’t yet determined when they will be able to reopen the 8,000-student school system, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Barbara A. Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Association of School Boards, said that her group had heard reports of damage, some of it extensive, from more than 20 districts.

There’s just damage all over,” she said. “The roof was peeled back on the gym in Deer Park” school district, which has about 12,000 students and is east of Houston, she said. “In Anahuac [northeast of Galveston], all their campuses were damaged.”

Hurricane Ike made landfall in Galveston on Sept. 13 as a Category 2 storm, with winds reaching 110 miles per hour. The storm was linked to at least 51 deaths in the U.S., including at least 18 in Texas. More than 2 million people in Texas lacked electricity immediately after the storm, and nearly 37,000 Texas spent time in shelters, many at public schools.

In Louisiana, more than 20 public schools across seven school systems were closed for all or part of last week, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. But public schools in the New Orleans area were open the Monday following the storm. By late last week, only Cameron Parish had all its schools closed, according to Rene Greer, a spokeswoman for the state education department.

Louisiana officials estimated that public schools in the state had suffered $150 million in damages from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike together, with two-thirds of that coming from Gustav, which hit Sept. 1. Ms. Greer said that Terrebonne and Cameron parishes were the hardest hit by Hurricane Ike, and that Cameron, which has 1,500 students in its public schools, was still flooded last week.

A fallen sign promoting the local schools is seen in floodwaters on Sept. 15 in High Island, Texas.

In Indiana, meanwhile, dozens of schools were closed early last week because of storm damage. The remnants of Hurricane Ike caused heavy rains and flooding in parts of northwestern Indiana, while strong winds knocked power out in other areas across the state. Some of those districts might have to reschedule statewide testing slated for later this month.

In Illinois, 18 school districts closed at least one school for at least a day because of flooding, said Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois state board of education.

In Ohio, gusts of up to 75 miles per hour swept through Columbus and Cincinnati, knocking down trees and cutting electricity. Four hundred of the state’s 613 school district closed for at least two days, said Karla Warren, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education.

The 52,000-student Columbus school district, closed because of power outages, still hadn’t reopened late last week Ms. Warren said. The 34,000-student Cincinnati school district closed for three days last week, in part, because power outages spoiled food in cafeteria freezers and a food warehouse.

Outages in Houston

The 200,000-student Houston school district was closed all last week. School officials expected the district, which is the state’s largest, to reopen this week if electricity could be restored in all buildings. Late last week, only about 80 of the district’s 300 facilities had electricity, and work teams were making repairs to buildings.

“We have some roof damage, [damage to] windows, doors, a lot of downed trees, a lot of wet carpets,” said Norm Uhl, a spokesman for the district. He said he couldn’t yet estimate the cost of repairs, but noted that the district’s insurance policy had a $2.5 million deductible.

The Texas Education Agency last week did not yet have a cost estimate tag for school damages statewide.

The education agency has invited any of the 200 Texas districts and individual charter schools that closed at some point because of the storm to request waivers from having to make up missed school days.

Commissioner [of Education Robert] Scott wants to get better information about how long districts expect to be closed before he sets a firm limit on the number of days,” Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, wrote in an e-mail message.

Mr. Scott sent a letter to Texas superintendents last week telling them that any students displaced by the storm meet the federal definition of “homeless” and are entitled to enroll in schools without providing the usual records, such as documentation of district residence. The letter said that per-pupil funding from the state would follow students to new districts.

Texas school officials were also advised to keep track of expenses for serving displaced students in case the Federal Emergency Management Agency eventually provides some reimbursement.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 2008 edition of Education Week as Hurricane Recovery Proves Slow Going

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