Scores of Louisiana Schools Remain Closed After Severe Flooding
Schools in Louisiana's second-largest district will remain closed until the middle of next week as leaders continue to assess the damage from historic flooding in the Baton Rouge area.
Thus far, the East Baton Rouge school system reports that 17 of its 73 schools sustained significant damage, with six of those buildings completely flooded, the Advocate reports.
Due to the flooding, roughly 30 parishes in southern Louisiana shut down schools just as the school year was beginning. The state Department of Education remains closed this week and has not yet tallied the cost or time to repair school campuses, spokesman Barry Landry told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
The flooding caused record-setting river crests that damaged homes and schools across southern Louisiana and parts of Mississippi.
The flood waters were so high in some places that East Baton Rouge school employees, even with aid from the Louisiana National Guard, weren't able to reach every building until nearly five days later.
In an interview with television station WBRZ, district Superintendent Warren Drake said that more than a third of his district's employees had their homes or property damaged during the flood. Most employees are tentatively set to return to work Monday with classes resuming Wednesday.
As a result of the severe weather, Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency for the entire state. It remains in effect until mid-September.
"We are working diligently to develop a plan to resume school while recognizing the impact of this tragedy on our community, our employees and our facilities," Drake said in a statement posted to the district website Wednesday.
But Drake cautioned that some water-damaged schools may remain closed, forcing students to attend classes in different locations. Drake's district wasn't the only one hit hard by the storm.
More than a dozen schools in the Livingston and Ascension parishes are also shuttered as staff continue to assess damage in those locales. WBRZ reports that Livingston leaders will meet with officials in St. Tammany Parish this week to discuss how the district rebounded from massive flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. The Advocate also reports that Baton Rouge-area parochial and charter schools were hit hard by the severe weather.
In addition to flooded schools, districts also have to deal with waterlogged buses, which could complicate their efforts to get students back in school.
The American Federation of Teachers has reactivated its Disaster Relief Fund to collect donations for Louisiana members and their families. The union began the fund in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, back in 2005.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been harmed by this flood, and we will be with them as they fight to recover from this disaster," AFT President Randi Weingarten and Louisiana Federation of Teachers Interim President Larry Carter wrote this week in an email to union members.
The National Education Association and its Louisiana affiliate, the Louisiana Association of Educators, have also begun relief efforts to help those affected by the floodwaters.
The Times-Picayune also reports that many of the districts walloped by Hurricane Katrina are collecting monetary donations and supplies for schools affected by the storm of 2016.
Photo Credit: Gulfport, Miss., firefighters load water and cleaning supplies donated by Bayou View Elementary School families in Gulfport for flood victims in Louisiana. The city of Gulfport collected three truck loads of supplies and delivered them on Wednesday -- John Fitzhugh/The Sun Herald via AP