Area schools ready to enroll Katrina refugees

Katrina's Wake

September 02, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

At least a half-dozen Maryland school districts have received inquiries about enrolling displaced children from the Gulf Coast devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and those school systems and others say they are ready to accept the refugees.

"It's one of those situations that's happening rapidly, as soon as families can figure out a way to get out of the Gulf Coast area," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the State Department of Education. "They're looking for relatives and open rooms."

In Howard County, school officials yesterday were in the process of enrolling five students from the New Orleans area with more expected to come. The superintendent has ordered that their registration be put on a fast track, said school board chairman Courtney Watson.

The school system also sent out an e-mail to its principals, alerting them to the possibility of displaced children enrolling at their schools, said Roger Plunkett, Howard schools' business, community and government relations officer.

"We don't want to deny anyone an education," he said.

Federal law requires states to enroll homeless children in their public schools, regardless of whether they have proper documents, such as school and medical records, which normally are required for registration.

Refugee children from states affected by Katrina - such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama - fit into such a category, school officials said.

Texas school officials expect to take in thousands of students evacuating from neighboring Louisiana.

Across the Baltimore-Washington region, school systems - including Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia - are receiving calls from relatives of Hurricane Katrina refugees, asking about schooling.

"The [point] of the law is to get kids enrolled in schools as fast as possible when they're homeless," Reinhard said.

The Baltimore County school system received two inquiries yesterday.

"These are obviously people in great need," said Baltimore County school system spokesman Charles A. Herndon. "We would want to extend any services to them we could."

Though Carroll County officials had not gotten any requests, the school system could accommodate displaced students if the need arises, said Superintendent Charles I. Ecker. "If they come, we'll put them in school," he said.

Relief efforts also are on the minds of students across the state.

Carroll County schools are collecting supplies, while Howard County student leaders are expected to devise a countywide effort.

The state education department is set to announce a statewide campaign to help students from the Gulf Coast.

Staff writers Gina Davis and Liz Kay, and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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