Schools reopen with added pupils

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Public school students, including those displaced by HurricaneKatrina, returned to the classroom Monday with relatively littlechange from the normal routine, officials said.

“We’re having better-than-expected attendance. The teachers aregetting back into instruction and reviewing where they left off,”said Russell Caudill, Lawrence County School Districtsuperintendent.

No disruptions were reported Monday, and students seemed excitedto re-enter the classroom, superintendents said.

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“The transition has been made well,” Lincoln CountySuperintendent Terry Brister said.

Getting students to school posed a logistical problem in somedistricts because of the number of students displaced by HurricaneKatrina, but districts encountered only minor glitches.

Lea Barrett, superintendent of the Brookhaven School District,said Monday that bus schedules “would need to be tweaked slightly”to add some additional hotels to the routes. The six sheltersopened by the American Red Cross at area churches already werefactored into the routes.

In the Lincoln and Lawrence county districts, few shelterscaused schedules to be modified, but more home pickups were beingmade because of evacuees staying with relatives or friends.

School officials visited shelters last week and opened theiroffices Thursday and Friday to register new students. However, newstudents were still arriving to register Monday.

Superintendents estimated approximately 100 displaced studentsin the Brookhaven district, 80 in the Lincoln County district and75 in Lawrence County.

“We were expecting about a hundred. We may reach that yet,”Caudill said around noon Monday.

Brister said firm numbers were still hard to determine.

“We do know that this will be up and down for a few days untilthings get settled,” he said.

Brookhaven Academy Headmaster Miller Hammill said nine studentshave registered to attend the private school and the majority willlikely stay for the year.

“I feel like a few might be here for just a short time, but Ithink the majority are here for the year,” he said.

Students at Brookhaven Academy returned to the classroom lastweek, Hammill said. They could return earlier, he said, because theschool does not run buses.

Their return was conducted in an “orderly fashion, and we gotoff to a good start,” he said.

The public school superintendents said many of the parentsregistering there have said they intend to stay in the area.

“Several of the parents have expressed a desire to return homeas soon as they can, but we know we have some permanent transferstoo,” Barrett said. “A lot of parents are still assessing theirsituation.”

Caudill said his conversations with parents were much thesame.

“Some of them have said they’re looking for homes in this area -that they’re not going home,” he said.

A vast majority of the displaced students at both public andprivate schools are being enrolled without their school recordsbecause of the damage wrought by the hurricane. Barrett said theLouisiana and Mississippi departments of education are coordinatingan effort to reclaim those records and send them where needed.

The state department is also trying to determine how to handlethe loss of two weeks of school. Federal and state laws mandate aminimum number of days each year that students must attendschool.

“They have not told us yet,” Brister said. “The answer wereceive from them is that they don’t know.”

Caudill said in typical cases of natural disaster the districtcan request a waiver for the missing days but the scope ofKatrina’s damage may require other measures. Superintendents fromacross the state and representatives of the Department of Educationplan to meet Wednesday to discuss several issues caused by thestorm.

“I imagine those types of questions will be answered then,”Caudill said.