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Hurricane Harvey's Impact on Texas Schools and What's Being Done to Help

With Hurricane Harvey dumping record-setting amounts of rain in the Houston area, its impact has had a devastating effect on Houston students and their families. Many families have lost everything they have and the city’s students won’t start the new school year until September 5 at the earliest. Houston students were slated to start on Monday of this week, and so far, 160 public and 30 charter schools in the state have closed.

Harvey’s wrath has been felt throughout the Gulf Coast of Texas, with the storm’s rain reaching as far inland as Austin.

The Houston public school system serves around 215,000 students, with 76 percent being economically disadvantaged. The impact of Harvey’s floodwaters has left countless Texas families without homes, clothing, or school supplies for their children. Arelis Valencia and Chad Sterns who have six school-aged children lost their home, truck, and almost all of their possessions, including clothes for the start of their children’s new school year. “We lost everything,” Ms. Valencia told The New York Times, adding that her children’s studies were now in limbo with the family seeking shelter in a convention center.

Most of the city's schools, sports complexes, and community centers that have escaped floodwaters are now acting as shelters for displaced students and their families. Other Texas cities such as Dallas and El Paso have opened up their own shelters for hurricane refugees and are preparing themselves for an influx of new students from families that could be facing long-term displacement.

"It’s too early to tell how many students we’re talking about, but we’re certainly ready to help out our brethren from the Gulf Coast," Dallas Independent School District information director Robyn Harris told Dallas News. The city says it will waive enrollment policies for student refugees. Many families are currently housed in the city’s 5,000-bed “mega shelter” in its downtown Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

"El Paso is preparing for the arrival of 1,500 evacuees and ready to help them (evacuees) establish some sort of normalcy," said El Paso Independent School District manager, Manuel Chavira. The school district is prepared to provide bus transportation for families and hire substitute teachers to instruct students displaced by the storm.

So far, 45 of Houston's 325 schools and administrative buildings have water damage. Houston Independent School District superintendent Richard Carranza said that depending on how many roads are cleared by September 5, the city could have “a rolling start” with other schools opening once flood damage is cleared up. Carranza stressed the need for school supplies and clothes for the city’s students. "Given the amount of flooding that’s happened, many of our students are going to have lost everything," said Carranza.

The Texas American Federation of Teachers has set up a relief fund for educators impacted by the hurricane. For a full list of relief efforts visit NPR.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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