Tara Williams’s three boys are shirtless because 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. The roof has been blown away and most of the contents have been lost.
The Ford Fusion is now the family’s home, and, as if Hurricane Ida wasn’t enough, it has also stopped the boys from pursuing their 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 to happen next August, based on what it looks like right 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 schools and brought down test scores. After a rough August reopening that resulted in more COVID-19 infection and school closures, the hurricane now means that some students will not be able to return for weeks.
“How worried am I?” “How concerned am I?” Jarod Martin, superintendent for schools in Lafourche Parish, southwest New Orleans, said, “If you pick up thesaurus, what’s the word that means’most worried’?” 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.”
Williams worked at McDonald’s before COVID-19 cutbacks took her job. They rode through the storm in their apartment, watching it fall around them. Then they drove to Florida where they found a room in a hotel that they could afford for a few days.
They are surrounded by gutted trailers, mangled roofs, and mounds upon mounds of debris. Every mention of the Federal Emergency Management Agency seems preceded with a profane adjective. Williams said that school would be nice for them, but they don’t have a home right now.
Crews are working at Luling Elementary boys’ school to remove fallen trees and run piping from huge dehumidifiers through the windows. Shantele Slade (a 42-year old youth pastor) is one of the workers. However, her children in Amite, an hour away, are her thoughts. Her 14-year old son had to attend summer school after he had fallen behind in his virtual learning. After so many days without school, she is worried that her son will struggle to keep up with algebra.
She said, “The past two years have already proven so difficult on them,”
Though many children spent most or all of last school year back in class, some children remained in virtual programs and arrived back in class last month for the first time since the shutdowns began. It was not a smooth transition. Nearly 7,000 students and teachers were infected during the first week. This led to more shutdowns, quarantines and disruptions.
The latest state standardized test scores, released in August, showed a 5% drop in proficiency among students across Louisiana, blamed largely on disruptions from COVID-19. Children of lower income and members of minority groups fared worse than those who speak English as a second or younger language.
Cade Brumley (the state’s education superintendent) acknowledged that students had suffered some losses and that Ida was a further blow. According to the education department, schools for quarter-million students were still closed Friday. Classes for 81,000 children will reopen Monday. Brumley stated that the rest of the school would be open in a few weeks.
He said, “We must get those children back with us as quickly as possible.”
In the most affected areas, students and staff must be able to return to school. This is because schools need to be rebuilt or temporary classrooms set up. That means they must have homes with electricity and running water. Buses have to be able to move, and cafeterias need to be able to provide food and staff to serve it.
Their house was destroyed by a storm in Dulac. Penny Verdin’s children and nephew, who Penny cares for, began to pack each night into cars with their two children, and Honey, the squirrel, and a gecko. To make a new home, they plan to use the lumber and tin left over from their house.
They are all smiling. One child is doing handstands on the wet lawn and another is fishing for a 3-foot gator from a creek. Verdin, 43 says that they have been shaken up. After nearly her entire family was sickened with COVID-19 last year, and her disability checks were abruptly halted for them, Verdin is worried about their ability to keep up in school.
She says, “It’s going be a huge catch-up.”
Some observers predicted that a “lost generation of children” would be born when the pandemic erupted and students were forced into learning on their own screens. 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, stated that she was only beginning to assess any regressions due to the pandemic’s disruptions. Already she had students dealing with the loss of their families due to COVID. Now, Jewett is hearing about their deteriorating homes, flooded homes and shrinking resources.
Jewett, whose home was destroyed by the storm, stated that “we couldn’t cover all the things that were supposed to be covered because we couldn’t cover all the things that are supposed”