KATRINA’S TRUANCY PROBLEM
Nearly 20,000 young evacuees are in area schools. But many families are too overwhelmed to focus on keeping them there.
— reported by the Houston Chronicle
Houston-area schools have taken in nearly 20,000 evacuee children since Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29 and Hurricane Rita three weeks later. But no one can say how many families exist who, perhaps overwhelmed by their circumstances, are struggling with some basic needs while neglecting another one: education.
“The combination of everything the kids have gone through — all the complexities in moving to the city, the standards being so much higher (in Texas), them being so far behind and them missing so much school — yes, I think there is going to be a huge dropout situation,” warned Gary Robichaux, principal of New Orleans West, or NOW, College Preparatory School, which opened in Houston several weeks after Katrina. “And especially the kids that stay in Houston. This might end up being an issue for Houston.”
Immediately after the hurricanes, city and school officials were diligent about encouraging evacuee parents to enroll their children as soon as possible to give them a sense of normalcy and to make sure they didn’t fall behind, said City Councilman Adrian Garcia, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee.
Reports of fights between Houston and New Orleans students caused some anxiety in parents, he added, “and now that things have settled down a bit it is imperative that the families continue to support the process that we put in place to make sure that the kids continue with education and make sure they are enrolled and are in school.”
Garcia said both students and their parent or guardian could be subject to truancy tickets or daytime curfew tickets.
HISD spokesman Terry Abbott said dropout prevention and attendance specialists do receive referrals from schools about evacuee children who may not be attending school. Although he did not provide specific numbers of referrals made, Abbott said officials work to get those students back into school.
Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said the truancy issue has not gotten more attention, because getting people into more permanent housing is still the primary concern. After immediate needs are met, he said, “the challenge is in identifying people and helping them adjust.”