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Project SERV Funds Directed To Attacked Areas

By Joetta L. Sack — October 03, 2001 5 min read
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The Department of Education has tapped into a new, little-known fund to give, so far, $8.7 million to the states and school districts most affected by the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Those grants may be used for a wide range of services, including counseling, security, substitute teachers, transportation, and long-range planning. For now, most of the money will likely be spent on emergency counseling as schools focus on helping students and staff through the emotional upheaval brought on by the assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It’s all part of a year-old program called Project SERV, which stands for School Emergency Response to Violence. It directs the Education Department to provide money and crisis-response experts to states, districts, and schools with urgent needs growing from school-related violence. The violence, in this case, occurred off campus, but the emotional shock waves hit schools in states throughout the regions surrounding the cities of New York and Washington.

Rod Paige

As of last week, Secretary of Education Rod Paige had given grants of $4 million to New York City, $1.7 million to New York state, $1.5 million to New Jersey, $500,000 each to Connecticut and Virginia, and $250,000 each to the District of Columbia and Maryland. State education agencies will give the funds to the districts with the most students directly affected by the attacks, and the districts will pass the aid on to the schools with the greatest needs.

In addition, a team of three mental-health experts from the Education Department met last week with New York City school officials to begin planning for longer- term needs. And the department’s Rehabilitative Services Administration sent $5 million to New York state separately for adults and students who suffered disabling injuries or emotional trauma, and may need vocational or medically related services.

In the days after the attacks, Mr. Paige toured the former site of the World Trade Center in New York and nearby schools. In addition, he visited schools in Virginia, the location of the Pentagon, and at several appearances publicized Education Department resources to help counsel children and others who lost loved ones or otherwise have suffered emotionally.

A First Step

During those visits, the secretary promised that the grants would just be “a first step” of continuing support.

“I am proud that we can provide the schools of New York City with immediate and substantial assistance with counseling for children, families, and teachers,” he said during a Sept. 17 visit to New York. “These schools will be offering the children they serve important counseling services as they grapple with the horrifying damage and unspeakable loss that this area has suffered.”

With a $10 million budget for fiscal 2001, which ended Sept. 30, Project SERV was originally designed to help individual schools deal with violent occurrences on campus, such as shootings.

President Clinton first proposed Project SERV in October 1998 after a spate of school shootings, but it received little fanfare and did not get funding from Congress until 2000. Mr. Clinton’s plan was for the Education Department to provide immediate aid to schools in the same way the Federal Emergency Management Agency gives help to communities hit by natural disasters.

Before last month, the only grant recipients had been California’s Grossmont Union High School District, where Santana High School in Santee and Granite Hills High School in El Cajon saw school shootings in March.

The initial grants of just more than $50,000 each helped the schools pay for security, counseling, support, and translation services that were needed immediately after the shootings. Both schools later received $300,000 grants to pay for services for 18 months afterward.

Part of Granite Hills’ grant was used to hire David Maidlow, a school psychologist, as its Project SERV coordinator. Mr. Maidlow quickly found that many students and staff members had suffered lingering consequences from the shooting, which injured six students and teachers.

Some students, he said, were afraid to start the new school year and developed phobias about day-to-day classroom activities. In recent days, he said, the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the other side of the country reignited feelings of trauma.

Granite Hills also provided training to teachers to help them identify and work with students who were unable to handle school-related stress, such as homework assignments or tests. The teachers and other staff members needed to be aware of the many different ways students might show signs of emotional trauma, Mr. Maidlow said.

Funding May Grow

For the recipients of Education Department aid in the areas struck by the Sept. 11 terrorist acts, the initial grants are much larger to deal with the immense impact of the worst such attacks in U.S. history. Department officials say they hope to send additional aid, and officials plan to work with Congress to help make that happen.

“There will have to be more money added to the SERV fund,” said Lindsey Kozberg, the spokeswoman for Mr. Paige.

Thomas W. Murphy, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Education, said most of Connecticut’s $500,000 grant will likely go to reimburse districts in Fairfield County, where thousands of residents commute into New York City. Schools and mental-health agencies there have called on hundreds of counselors to provide services at schools and other sites.

“We have so many students who lost a parent. But also many staff people were affected as well, with spouses and relatives in New York City—more than you would expect,” Mr. Murphy said. “When one staff member or student is affected, a whole school is affected.”

Mr. Maidlow, the California school psychologist, said those schools would likely need intensive psychiatric help in the next few months— after the initial wave of nationwide and local support subsides—to help students and employees cope.

“Right after the shootings, there was a tremendous community response, but then all those people had to get back to work,” he said of the Granite Hills district’s experience. “As people come out of their shock, a lot more symptoms begin to appear.”

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