Ida deals new blow to Louisiana schools struggling to reopen

Sep 12, 2021, 5:50 AM | Updated: 10:54 am

LULING, La. (AP) — Tara Williams’ three little boys run shirtless, because most of their clothes were swept away, and they stack milk crates beneath a blazing sun because their toys are all gone too. Their apartment is barely more than a door dangling from a frame, so they crowd into a Ford Fusion for shelter.

And as if Hurricane Ida didn’t take enough, it has also put the boys’ education on hold.

“They’re ready to get inside, go to school, get some air conditioning,” said 32-year-old Williams, who has twin 5-year-olds and a 7-year-old and is more pessimistic than officials about when they might be back in class. “The way it’s looking like now, it’s going to be next August.”

After a year and a half of pandemic disruptions that drove children from schools and pulled down test scores, at least 169,000 Louisiana children are out of class again, their studies derailed by the storm. The hurricane followed a rocky reopening in August that led to more COVID-19 infections and classroom closures, and now it will be weeks before some students go back again.

“How concerned am I? If you pick up a thesaurus, whatever’s the word for ‘most concerned,'” said Jarod Martin, superintendent of schools in hard-hit Lafourche Parish, southwest of New Orleans. “We were brimming with optimism and confident that we were going to defeat COVID, confident we were on a better path. And now we’ve got another setback.”

In the most devastated areas, returning to class requires not only schools be repaired or temporary classrooms set up, but for students and staff scattered around the country to come back. That means they must have homes with electricity and running water. Buses must run, cafeterias must be stocked with food and on and on.

After the storm destroyed their house in Dulac, a stretch of Cajun country swampland, 43-year-old Penny Verdin’s two children and a nephew she cares for began living in their car, along with a gecko, a hamster and a squirrel named Honey. They hope to use some lumber and tin from the carcass of their home to fashion a new shack.

After a year in which nearly the whole family fell sick with COVID-19 and Verdin’s disability checks were suddenly halted, she’s worried about them falling behind in their studies.

“It’s going to be a big catch-up,” she says.

Though many children spent most or all of last school year back in class, some children remained in virtual programs and arrived back in class last month for the first time since the shutdowns began, but the return led to nearly 7,000 infections of students and teachers in the opening weeks. More quarantines, shutdowns and disruptions resulted.

The latest state standardized test scores, released in August, showed a 5% drop in proficiency among students across Louisiana.

The state’s education superintendent, Cade Brumley, acknowledged that students “did lose a little bit” and that Ida dealt another blow, but he said all students would likely be back in a matter of weeks.

“We need to get those kids back with us as soon as we possibly can,” he said.

When the pandemic first raged and students were forced to learn on screens at home, some observers warned of a “lost generation” of children falling through the cracks. The opening of the school year gave some teachers their first chance to fully assess the effects on pupils, only to have students forced out again.

Lauren Jewett, a 34-year-old special education teacher in New Orleans, already had students who were dealing with family deaths from COVID; now she’s hearing about their collapsed roofs, swamped homes and dwindling resources. She had just been starting to evaluate any regression due to the pandemic’s disruptions when the storm hit.

“We couldn’t cover all of the things that are supposed to be covered because of all the disruptions,” she said.

Many people remain without power or running water, and in several parishes, no reopening dates have been announced for schools. They are simply closed until further notice.

Inevitably, as parents ponder what’s next for their children, 2005’s monster Hurricane Katrina is invoked. When researchers at Columbia University and the Children’s Health Fund tried to determine that storm’s impact on children five years after landfall, they found unstable living conditions persisted, serious emotional and behavioral issues were rampant and one-third of students in affected areas were behind in schooling for their age.

“We don’t have to go back that far to see the outright and ultimate failure of our children,” said Kevin Griffin-Clark, a 36-year-old entrepreneur and father of three who is now running for City Council in New Orleans. “Now the children are going to suffer even more.”

Douglas Harris, a Tulane University economist whose work focuses on education, said he expects test scores will eventually recover, as they did after Katrina, but they won’t be a true reflection of the harm.

“In both cases, it’s a significant amount of learning loss, a significant amount of trauma, a significant amount of anxiousness and disruption to life and school,” Harris said, comparing the post-Katrina landscape with today. “But the disruption has been so much longer now. We’re talking about 18 months of COVID. So the effects are going to be bigger here and the amount of time it takes to rebound will be greater.”

New Orleans’ schools superintendent, Henderson Lewis Jr., flatly rejects comparisons to Katrina, saying physical damage to schools is minimal. He said some will be able to return to class on Wednesday and all should be back by Sept. 22. But he acknowledges the hardships for students since COVID-19 first shuttered schools on March 13, 2020, and everything that’s happened since.

“It’s one more thing compounded,” he said.

___

Sedensky can be reached at [email protected] and https://twitter.com/sedensky.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE- Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers patrol near the India-Pakistan border fencing at ...
Associated Press

At 75, India’s Kashmir challenge shifts foreign policy focus

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — For decades, India has tried to thwart Pakistan in a protracted dispute over Kashmir, the achingly beautiful Himalayan territory claimed by both countries but divided between them. That relentless competition made Pakistan always the focus of New Delhi’s foreign policy. But in the last two years, since a deadly border clash […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos talks to reporters March 16, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Vos...
Associated Press

Wisconsin Assembly leader Vos beats Trump-backed challenger

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s most powerful Republican narrowly survived being targeted by Donald Trump in Tuesday’s primary, then said his win proved that lawmakers “don’t have to be a lapdog to whatever Donald Trump says.” Robin Vos, the longest-serving speaker in the state’s history, overcame intense criticism from Trump and others that he hadn’t […]
22 hours ago
FILE - In this photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, a People's Liberation Army member look...
Associated Press

China reaffirms threat of military force to annex Taiwan

BEIJING (AP) — China on Wednesday reaffirmed its threat to use military force to bring self-governing Taiwan under its control, amid threatening Chinese military exercises that have raised tensions between the sides to their highest level in years. The statement issued by the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office and its news department followed almost a week […]
22 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden shakes hands with veteran John Caruso as Biden tour's the Fort Worth VA ...
Associated Press

Veterans health bill marks a personal victory for Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — As President Joe Biden rattled off policy proposals in this year’s State of the Union address, he hit an emotional note when talking about veterans who suffer from cancer after serving on military bases where toxic smoke billowed from burning trash. “One of those soldiers was my son Maj. Beau Biden,” he […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Niklas Hoehne, from left, New Climate Institute Cologne, Luisa Neubauer, Fridays for Future ...
Associated Press

‘We’re back, baby’: New bill boosts US climate credibility

WASHINGTON (AP) — After a moment when hopes dimmed that the United States could become an international leader on climate change, legislation that Congress is poised to approve could rejuvenate the country’s reputation and bolster its efforts to push other nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more quickly. The head-snapping turn of events, which has […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Firefighters work the scene of a helicopter crash where former NBA basketball star Kobe Brya...
Associated Press

Kobe Bryant crash photos lawsuit to be heard by LA jury

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant was one of the most photogenic sports figures in Los Angeles and images of him seen by millions around the world — smiling in victory, grimacing in agony — keep his memory alive. But some photos of him should never be seen, his widow says, and she’s seeking unspecified […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Ida deals new blow to Louisiana schools struggling to reopen