from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina and education - can you help? 

Let me offer a few thoughts on a subject about which few have reflected, as far as I can tell.  There has been some news coverage of this, but not much.

The educational system has, along with the rest of the communiy services along the Gulf Coast, been totally devastated.   And the implications of this, especially for poor people, is very frightening.   But it affects people of all eceonomic classes and af all racial backgrounds.

Below the jump I will describe some implications, and then suggest a few ways we all can help.


School buildings have, along with other structures, either been totally destroyed, as they have in Gulfport, Biloxi, Bay St Louis and other communities, flooded to the point where either they will be condemned or will take months before they can be reoccupied, or even if extant and usuable had access and necessary services totally disrupted.

In the latter category is Tulane University.   According to tis president, who has relocated to Houston, while some of their buildings had some flooding, even could they clean and make those buildings usable within a few weeks, they are totally dependent upon the city of New Orleans for infrastructure --  water, electricity, sewer, and the like.  And it will be months before the public services and utilities are likely to be available, and that is if the City can in fact be reconstructed.

In other cases, it may be years before buildings can be reconstructed.  If the buildings are salvageable, the furniture , books, computers and supplies are not.  School records, whether in individual buildings or central offices, are likely totally gone.  It is not clear how much of this has off-site backups that were not themselves destroyed by wind, water and the like.  While I am aware that the same problem exists for legal (the building of the 5th Circuit suffered some flooding and nearby law offices were often destroyed), medical and business records, I will keep my focus only on the educational issues.

We are confronted with a massive and extended relocation of several hundred thousand students (and faculty) of all ages, pre-K through graduate and professional school.  This represents a disruption to our country's present and future on a scale not seen since the Civil War and things such as the burning of Atlanta and the siege of Petersburg.  

The Federal government has apparently agreed to some flexibility in NCLB requirements for the areas directly impacted by Katrina.  While that is a start, it will be insufficient, especially if the recommendations I offer are acted upon.

We have seen some universities and graduate/professional schools been to offer aid.  Thus the Univeristy of Virginia has said that they will take any Virginia residents who would have attended colleges now forced to close as guest students for this year (although I do not know what financial accomodations are included in this offer).  If you stop and think, in New Orleans alone among the institutions now closed are Tulane, Dillard, Xavier (which may ahve lost its president of 40 years who decided to ride out the storm), and the University of New Orleans.  The city was a cetner of historic black higher education exceeded perhaps only by the comlex around Atlanta.  

I am suggesting that somehow we begin a national project of relocation of school and college age students and disperse them throughout the nation - not just in nearby states which may soon be overwhelmed.  If people are willing to open up their homes to those who have been displaced, concentrate on the children.   Local districts should allow such children who are temporarily relocated to attend public school for free, with the Federal government providing impact funds for those distircts to help cover the costs of absorbing the additional students.  These costs may inlude the purchase of additional desks, even the rental of trailers, the purchase of needed additional books, computers,  and supplies.  These materials and supplies could then be transferred to the schools in the impacted area as they are able to reconstruct and reopen.

Those who take children in should be offered some tax benefits for so doing if they do not need the additional funds to help, and there should be some funds to help with the clothing and feeding for those who have space and the open hearts, but lack sufficient additional funds to be ab le to sustain those they wold take in.

Rules on certification of teachers should be waived  -  if the state of origin can ascertain that a teacher is certified there (Louisiana, Missippi, Alabama) then such certification should be sufficient for the receiving state to allow such teachers to work at least temporarily to help wiht the influx of additional students.

Finally, NCLB -  it seems to me that funds currently dedicated to testing and recorrd keeping in that regard would be far better spent on meeting basic educational needs of students who otherwise could go without schooling for months if not ofr the entire school year.

Oh, and for colelges and graduate schools  --  some of our ntiona's institutions are quite wealthy  -  it seems to me that they should be offering of their largesse to benefit those students who now do not have institutions to attend.   Generoisty of admission sucha s that offered by U VA will be insufficient if there are not funds to subsidize such efforts.  Places like Harvard, Yalke, Swarthmore, Pomona and other richly endowed institutions should be asking themselves how they can assist in this time of crisis.

This disaster occurred in one part of the nation.  Yet it is a disaster of national import, one that affects us all, and not only because the cost of the gasoline and other energy suplies on which we depend has begun to skyrocket.  I will let the lawyers and economists argue about how that can be addressed.  As a teacher I know the longterm impact of a severe disruption of education, especially for young children.  As I write this, I ahve to rush off to teach my 155 students.  Our overcrowded classrooms to me now seem like a minor inconvenience.  So I offer this diary in the hopes that someone, somewhere, will begin to address the critical educational needs of those who have been dislocated.

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