LULING (La. (AP) — Tara Williams has three young boys who are shirtless. Most of their clothes have been swept away. They also stack milk crates under the sun to store their toys. Their apartment is little more than a door hanging from a frame. They crowd into a Ford Fusion to shelter.
And, as if Hurricane Ida weren’t enough, the storm has also put an end to the boys’ education.
Williams, 32, said that “they’re ready to go inside, get to school, and get some air conditioning.” Williams has twin 5-year olds and a 7 year-old. Williams is less optimistic than the officials about when they will be back in class. “It’s going be next August, the way it looks now.”
At least 169,000 children in Louisiana are now out of school after a year of disruptions caused by pandemics that forced them from school and brought down their test scores. Following a chaotic August reopening, which led to more COVID-19 infected and closed classrooms, it is now that many students won’t be returning for several weeks.
“How concerned are I?” You can find the word “most concerned” in a thesaurus. Jarod Martin is the superintendent of schools in Lafourche Parish, southwest New Orleans. We were full of optimism, certain that we would defeat COVID and were confident that we were on the right track. We’re now facing another setback.”
To return to school in the most affected areas, it is necessary to repair or set up temporary classrooms. It also requires that students and staff are allowed to return home from other parts of the country. This means that they need homes with electricity and running water. Buses must operate, cafeterias have to be stocked with food, and so on.
Penny Verdin, 43, and her two children, and nephew, were destroyed in a storm in Dulac. Penny Verdin, who is a nurse, moved in with Honey, a squirrel, a gecko and a hamster to their car. To build a new home, they plan to make use of the lumber and tin left over from their house.
After almost the entire family became ill with COVID-19 last year, Verdin’s disability payments were suddenly stopped and she worries about her children’s future in school.
She says, “It’s going be a huge catch-up.”
Although many children spent the last school year in school, others stayed in virtual programs. Some children returned to class last month after the shutdowns ended. But, the return of nearly 7,000 students and teachers led to more infections. There were more disruptions, shutdowns, and quarantines.
In August, the latest state-standardized test scores showed that proficiency levels among Louisiana students dropped by 5%.
Cade Brumley (the state’s education superintendent) acknowledged that students had suffered some losses and that Ida was a major factor in the situation. However, he stated that all students would be back within weeks.
He stated, “We have to get those children back together as soon as possible.”
When the pandemic broke out, and students were forced from school to learn online at home, observers predicted a “lost Generation” of children who would fall through the cracks. Teachers had their first chance to assess the effects of the pandemic on students at the opening of the school year, but were then forced to send them back.
Lauren Jewett, a 34 year-old New Orleans special education teacher, was already dealing with students who had lost their families to COVID. Now she is hearing about their deteriorating homes, floods and shrinking resources. When the storm struck, she was just beginning to assess any possible regression caused by the disruptions of the pandemic.
She stated that “we couldn’t cover all the things that were supposed to be covered due to all the disruptions.”
Many remain without running water or power, and schools in many parishes have not been reopened. They remain closed until further notice.
As parents consider what the future holds for their children, 2005’s devastating Hurricane Katrina is often invoked. Columbia University researchers and Children’s Health Fund tried five years later to evaluate the effects of that storm on children. They discovered that there were still unstable living conditions and serious behavioral and emotional issues, and that one-third were not in school for their age.
Kevin Griffin-Clark (36-year-old entrepreneur, father of three) said that “we don’t have too far back to see the outright failure of our children.” He is running for City Council in New Orleans. “Now the children will suffer even further.”
Douglas Harris, a Tulane University economist, believes that test scores will eventually rebound, just as they did following Katrina. But they won’t be true reflections of the damage.
Harris stated that “in both cases it’s significant amounts of learning loss and trauma. It also causes a lot of anxiety and disruption to life” and compared the post-Katrina landscape today. But the disruption is much more severe now. This is 18 months of COVID. This means that the impact will be larger and recovery time will be longer.
Henderson Lewis Jr., New Orleans’ superintendent of schools, rejects any comparisons to Katrina and says that there has been minimal damage to schools. He stated that some students will be able return to school on Wednesday, and all should be back in class by September 22. He acknowledged the difficulties faced by students since COVID-19 closed schools on March 13, 2020 and all that has happened since then.
He said, “It’s another thing compounded.”