Hurricane Katrina sent tens of thousands of schoolchildren west to neighboring Texas back in 2005, but Hurricane Harvey at this point is sending few if any schoolchildren back east.
“As of now, we only know of one displaced student from Texas,” said Sydni Dunn, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Education, saying that child enrolled at a school in Caddo Parish.
Nor is there much evidence as yet of Louisiana students being displaced by Harvey.
All but a few Louisiana public schools near the Texas border have reopened, and the rest are scheduled to reopen Tuesday.
Calcasieu Parish, home to the state’s fifth-largest public school district, had no schools flood. All but one of the district’s schools reopened by Thursday, the day after Harvey passed through. The last holdout, Starks High, in the parish’s northwest corner, remained closed because of the release of water from the Toledo Bend Reservoir, but the small high school is scheduled to reopen Tuesday.
Holly Holland, a spokeswoman for the school district, said Friday the water is receding but is still high in spots.
“We know some of (our students) may be dealing with flooding issues, but we don’t foresee that causing many long-term displacement issues,” Holland said.
One wildcard is the large shelters Louisiana opened in Alexandria and Shreveport to take in storm victims from Texas. It’s unclear how long the shelters will remain open and whether people there will stay in Louisiana for an extended period .
“We are working to provide child care in those centers, but we do not yet have a child count,” Dunn said. “The focus right now is to get school-age children in a stable shelter. Once we have a better idea of how many kids there are and how long they will be there, we will begin to assess placement in schools.”
As Harvey’s center approached Louisiana on Tuesday, state Superintendent of Education John White sent a letter to superintendents across the state. He said he expected the storm would lead to displaced students not just from within Louisiana but also that “a significant number of students will be coming to our schools from out of state.”
“It goes without saying, but please admit all students displaced by floods, from within the state or without,” White urged the superintendents.
As the storm came ashore Wednesday in Louisiana, the state’s largest online school, University View Academy, was the most visible in promoting its readiness to enroll displaced schoolchildren.
“The effects of Hurricane Harvey across Texas and Louisiana mean many people are displaced, homes are destroyed, and schools are interrupted. As a result, our completely online school is here to help," Lonnie Luce, the school’s superintendent, said in a news release.
University View, a charter school based in Baton Rouge with about 2,300 students, has been there before. It took in about 160 children after the August 2016 floods that devastated much of the multiparish Baton Rouge metro area.
Reached by phone onFriday, Luce said he’d anticipated more displaced children. He said the school signed up two children from displaced families in southwest Louisiana during the early days of the storm but no one yet from Texas, he said.
University View Academy’s main rival online school is Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy, which has about 1,900 students and uses a curriculum developed by for-profit Herndon, Virginia-based K12 Inc. It also took in extra students after the August 2016 floods, about 100. As of Friday, the school had registered no displaced students, said Perry Daniel, deputy regional vice president for K12 Inc.
In urging Louisiana schools to take in displaced students, White also gave the green light for charter schools, even those that have reached the enrollment caps in their charters, to take in displaced students. After enrolling these children, the schools would have to apply for a state waiver, the superintendent warned.
As of Friday, no charter schools had applied for such a waiver, though University View’s Luce said it was preparing one.
As it turned out, Luce has a front-row seat for this disaster.
A colonel in the Louisiana National Guard, Luce was activated to work during the storm and is stationed at the Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles. Luce said Friday that storm-ravaged Texas towns across the state line such as Orange and Vidor will take years to recover.
“Some of the places are completely obliterated,” Luce said. “If you look right across the border, it’s not looking good at all. They are still doing search and rescues.”
He said he’s not seeing that many children coming through as yet, mostly “medically fragile” people who are then directed north to mega-shelters in Alexandria and Shreveport. Getting kids in school is a secondary issue, he acknowledged, given what people are dealing with currently, but he said that will shift.
“It’ll will be a week or so before people figure out longer term plans,” he said. “There’s a lot of figuring out for short term right now.”
Luce said he expects University View will get displaced students wanting its services as families move out of shelters, perhaps to stay with relatives in Louisiana. Another possibility is that schools like his could educate children inside the shelters.
“We have teachers, we have the technology to do it, but we would have to work through getting the right internet connections,” he said.