Twenty-two districts across a vast swath of southern Louisiana were forced to close last week by a historic flood, delaying or interrupting the start of the school year for tens of thousands of children, The Washington Post reports.
Although some districts remain closed indefinitely—and the superintendent of one hard-hit district is living in an emergency shelter—the majority plan to welcome students back within the next two weeks, according to state superintendent of education John White. East Baton Rouge Parish Schools employees reported to work today. Students in grades one through 12 will report on Wednesday, with Pre-K and kindergarten students scheduled to return next Monday.
But school leaders are far more worried about making sure they have enough teachers than they are about the physical condition of classrooms, White says.
“There is the facility and capacity in the region to serve all students,” he says. “The greater challenge is displacement, especially of teachers.”
White estimates that 4,000 teachers and other staff members who are critical to the schools’ operation—including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals and janitors—have been displaced by the flood.
Public servants considered “essential personnel” are entitled to expedited assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, White says, adding that his agency is pushing for educators and school personnel to gain this swift relief.
“But there is a very large number of displaced people,” he says. “So there is a question of what housing will be available.”
At stake is not only whether schools will be able to provide students with stability and routine at a time of great upheaval, but also whether students—many of whom are disadvantaged—will lose out on more precious learning time.
“Our students need some sense of continuity,” says Adonica Pelichet Duggan, spokeswoman for East Baton Rouge Parish Schools. “For a lot of our students, they will eventually be moving back to their neighborhoods. We want to keep as much stability for those students as they can possibly have at this point in their lives, when everything else is chaos.”