Schools, both public and private, throughout the Baton Rouge area have either taken on water or have come very close to it during the floods that have caused massive damage and disruption, sidelining schools for days, and in some case likely weeks, even months.
Some schools remained flooded Monday or hard to access. Consequently, available damage reports were often preliminary and partial.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system, second largest in Louisiana, reported 17 of 73 schools sustained at least damage, with six completely flooded.
Superintendent Warren Drake said he didn’t know all six schools off hand, but said Park Forest Middle and Glen Oaks High School are among that group. He said the Louisiana National Guard assisted school personnel but they couldn’t reach every school because the water was still too high in some cases.
“We’re hoping by (Tuesday) afternoon we can get into all of our schools,” Drake said, in order to provide a more complete damage report.
He said school is “highly unlikely” to reopen this week and will stay closed “until further notice.” Principals report that 28 percent of the more than 3,200 school faculty had various levels of damage at their homes from the floods, Drake said, and 22 percent are unlikely to be able to report to work by Friday.
Transportation and food service is another factor. The school system is still trying to account for all of its buses – drivers in most cases take them home – and some of its freezers where it stores food are in a Choctaw Road location that remains underwater and was still inaccessible Monday. If the freezers fail, then that food will have be reordered, Drake said.
He plans to ask the School Board when it meets Thursday night for emergency powers to speed repairs and cleanup.
“We’re looking at every different option for reopening,” Drake said. “We are hoping that it is just a few schools that are most affected and we have space not too far away to deal with them.”
Several portions of East Baton Rouge Parish remained submerged Monday.
Melanie Verges, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, said she is aware of the schools that sustained flooding: St Alophonsus, St. Jean Vianney and Cristo Rey Franciscan High School, which opened just a week ago.
Democracy Prep Baton Rouge, formerly Prescott Middle School, emerged from flood waters at 4055 Prescott Road on Monday to reveal a flood-level ring about a foot-and-a-half above the ground that went around the length of the school. Athletic fields behind the schools remained a massive lake and floodwaters stopped all traffic just to the west of the school along Prescott Road for as far as one could see.
No one was present Monday and the doors were locked, but the floors indoor were wet, including in the gym.
The New York City-based charter school organization moved into the former Prescott school a year ago and made a number of renovations to the building.
Principal Michelle Gieg said her staff is still assessing the damage and is working with the state-run Recovery School District on potential repairs.
“Upon looking the situation, it is concerning,” Gieg acknowledged.
Over the weekend, McKinley High School looked like a prime candidate for flooding. Water rose along the LSU Lakes and flooded a couple of feet over the top of the McKinley High football field next door. Remarkably, the school buildings remained dry. On Monday morning there was no evidence of flooding in the classrooms at 800 E. McKinley St.
Principal Herman Brister Jr., while grateful his building was not flooded, knows many of his faculty weren’t so lucky.
“We have many faculty members displaced,” he said. “I can’t ascertain when we will be able to start.”
North of Baton Rouge, his father, Herman Brister Sr., superintendent of Baker public schools, was dealing with flood damage. Baker High School, along with a number of municipal buildings along Groom Road, took in water on Saturday.
Brister Sr., however, said it didn’t last and only made it a few inches inside.
“The water moved out pretty quickly,” he said. “The water moved south and those folks weren’t very lucky.”
On Monday, staff and volunteers were mopping, bleaching and cleaning up. Brister Sr. himself was mopping. When asked who his maintenance staff was, he smiled and said, “You’re looking at it!”
He said the worst hit was the gym, but he didn’t think that would require more than minimal repairs to get that floor ready again. He said the other four Baker schools were not flooded and he hopes to have students back in school by Thursday.
Chanté Rice, who teaches business education at Baker High, volunteered to wield a mop Monday. She said she was fortunate not to flood at her home, but she knows that won’t be the case for her students. For instance, she sponsors the cheerleading squad and she knows they are suffering.
“So many have just lost everything,” she said.