School Enrollment Process Beginning For Evacuees

9-7-05 - While Tuesday marked the first day of school for many hurricane victims able to find housing with friends, family or strangers, the enrollment process was just beginning for the masses of evacuees living in the state's sports arenas and convention centers.

As parents met with counselors and filled out forms, administrators scrambled to figure out where to put thousands of new students, decide who would teach them and determine how they would get to school.

Vanessa Walker enrolled her sons, ages 12, 10 and 7, in the Austin Independent School District, completing the paperwork at the convention center her family now calls home. They will tour their new schools on Thursday and Friday, and start class on Monday.

"It's going to be a new experience for all of us," said Walker, whose family spent four days sleeping on the ground outside their New Orleans apartment building before they were taken by truck to an evacuation center, then by helicopter to the airport and finally by plane to Austin.

The Red Cross estimates 500 to 600 children are living at the convention center, but only a few dozen enrolled on Tuesday. District spokeswoman Nicole Kaufman said she expected more parents to register their kids after settling in and taking care of basic needs.

But busing the students to school could be a problem. The district was already short 43 school bus drivers, and it has planned a Wednesday job fair to recruit more.

In Dallas, which accepted about 130 displaced students on Tuesday, school buses arrived early in the morning at Reunion Arena and the nearby Dallas Convention Center to ferry parents and children to nearby elementary, middle and high schools. In many cases, parents met with principals and accompanied their children in classes.

"We wanted parents to be assured that this was a good safe environment for their kids," district spokesman Donny Claxton said. "They've gone through so much. It just made sense to be as open and helpful as we could."

The Houston Independent School District had registered nearly 900 evacuee children by Monday, and more were being processed Tuesday at the Astrodome. The district has decided to reopen two shuttered elementary schools that can hold up to 1,350 children, and many more will be scattered in schools throughout the district.

"Our wonderful teachers, administrators, bus drivers, food service and other support staff are anxious and willing to help these children get back into school," Houston Superintendent Abe Saavedra said in a statement. "These children need us and we want to help."