Floods Disrupt Louisiana's School Schedule

Sep 1, 2016
Originally published on August 25, 2016 6:56 am

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Louisiana's second-largest school district, all the schools are closed because of the massive flooding there. Students in the East Baton Rouge Parish were scheduled to go back this week. But the district had to delay the start of school until after Labor Day. Mallory Falk from member station WWNO reports.

MALLORY FALK, BYLINE: Nothing can keep the Glen Oaks Panthers away from football practice - not even a flood. Glen Oaks High School has been closed for more than a week, as are all other schools in the district. But the Panthers are here, bright red helmets strapped tight to their heads, doing lunges across the field to warm up.

JACK PHILLIPS: You know, the kids wanted to know, you know, was the school just going to close down? They've seen that before with Katrina and other storms. And so we just had to assure them that we were going to play football. The school is going to be in.

FALK: Coach Jack Phillips sits behind a desk covered in mounds of papers. He says there was never any question his team would be back on the field once it dried out. But he had to search through student records to track down the entire team.

PHILLIPS: And by contacting them, we really find out that some of those guys weren't doing very well. It allowed us to go out today and help their families, to gut their homes.

FALK: Then come back for practice. The football field is on higher ground. So it was mostly spared from the flood. The school building wasn't. Glen Oaks High took on 4 feet of water. And now it's surrounded by giant dehumidifiers. When school starts in a couple weeks, Glen Oaks will be on a different campus.

EDWARD HUNTER: It's going to be tight. It's going to be tight. And right now, we're kind of short of some rooms. But we're confident we're going to make this work.

FALK: Edward Hunter is the principal of Glen Oaks High. And he's checking out the new site. The school normally accommodates about a hundred students. They're moving out so that 600 from Glen Oaks can move in. Hunter wears a lime-green polo shirt buttoned up to the top. He says about a third of his teachers lost everything in the flood.

HUNTER: Teachers at my school - we had the option of going into their rooms to get some of the stuff out of their rooms. But when you get to the room, it's like, I'm not going to even bother 'cause I don't want to have to go through that emotional attachment of throwing away my stuff.

FALK: Over 20 districts across the state closed because of the flood. Some are back up and running. Others are shut down indefinitely. John White is the top education official in the state. He says it's up to each school or district to decide how to make up for lost time.

JOHN WHITE: Some schools are going to extend time during the day. Some schools may extend their school year. Others may find that they've got ways of achieving what they need to achieve with their kids in the amount of time that they've still got left in the year.

FALK: In the meantime, families are doing their best to ensure their kids don't fall too far behind.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: 8 from 9.

FALK: At this shelter in Baton Rouge, kids read picture books. And a relief worker flips over playing cards to create an arithmetic game.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hold up nine. And how many you have left?

FALK: Mary Journey is here with her grandchildren. When they go back to school, they'll be in a different location. That makes her...

MARY JOURNEY: Scared as hell - because even if they go to a new school, everything is different for them. And I don't know how they're going to react. Whether they are going to get in there and just go with the flow - or are they going to regress and not do anything? That's my fear.

FALK: Journey and many parents here need the schools to reopen so they have a place to put their children as they fill out paperwork, meet with officials and try to rebuild their lives. For NPR News, I'm Mallory Falk in Baton Rouge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.