School Choice & Charters

Majority of New Orleans Independent Schools Still Closed

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 11, 2005 2 min read

Only one of the 11 independent schools in the greater New Orleans area that were affected by Hurricane Katrina has reopened, though most expect to reopen by January, private school leaders said last week.

The facilities are in good enough shape to open soon at eight of the 10 sites still closed, so “it’s a matter of, ‘if I open my doors, who is coming?’ ” said Geoffrey C. Butler, the executive director of the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, based in Fort Worth, Texas.

Christ Episcopal School in Covington, La., a community north of Lake Pontchartrain, became the first of the independent schools to reopen when it resumed the school year on Sept. 12. All but six of the school’s previous 460 students in preschool through 8th grade have returned, said Pam Sims, the assistant to the headmaster. The school has enrolled an additional 80 students displaced from other schools because of the devastating storm in late August.

The Louise S. McGehee School in New Orleans, which had 490 students in preschool through 12th grade before the hurricane, announced it will reopen Oct. 24.

Mr. Butler said the two most heavily damaged independent schools were Metairie Park Country Day School in Metairie, La., and St. Paul’s Episcopal School in the Lakeview area of New Orleans.

But even at Metairie Park Country Day, contractors were working steadily last week to repair damage, and a reopening of Jan. 2 has been set, David Drinkwater, the head of school, said in an interview.

The school, which had 741 students before the hurricane, is located in the part of Jefferson Parish that was flooded. Ridding the school of water that could be contaminated has been a big job, Mr. Drinkwater said. He estimated that repairs will cost $3 million. Only some of that expense will be covered by insurance, he added.

Mr. Drinkwater said the board of the school has decided to keep all of its faculty on the payroll. Some faculty members are assisting with the cleanup or are helping private schools in Houston teach displaced students there.

New Placements

Most of the 6,000 students from independent schools initially displaced by the storm have landed in other private schools, according to Mr. Butler. Some 1,500 of those students are attending school in Texas. Houston schools, for instance, have taken in 1,325 students from New Orleans-area independent schools. Mr. Butler said 322 students have landed in other parts of Louisiana.

The Association of Christian Schools International, in Colorado Springs, Colo., whose members are evangelical Christian schools, has confirmed that 17 of its member schools in the greater New Orleans area were closed because of Hurricane Katrina. At least 3,800 students from its member schools were displaced from that part of the country, said Janet L. Stump, the director of development and public relations for the association.

In addition, she said, seven evangelical Christian schools in Mississippi, which had enrolled 795 students, and four such schools in Alabama, which had 320 students, have not reopened since Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29.

Also, Ms. Stump said, three evangelical Christian schools in Texas, which had 600 students, closed more recently because of Hurricane Rita. She said information wasn’t available on whether any of those schools had reopened.

A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2005 edition of Education Week as Majority of New Orleans Independent Schools Still Closed

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