EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
MARBLE FALLS — As families fled Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath in late August, those with school-aged children faced an additional problem: getting them back in class.
Highland Lakes school districts are answering that need, but officials aren’t just concerned with academics.
“My single biggest concern (is) that these kids are embraced by the community and, more importantly, their classmates,” said Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Chris Allen. “What they need most is a friend. I pray our students are befriending these kids, and they are including them in things like birthday parties, going to football games, and all kinds of activities.
“So they can quickly feel as if they’ve found a home,” he added, “even if it’s temporary or long-term.”
As of Sept. 7, the Marble Falls school district has taken in 11 students staying in the Highland Lakes due to Harvey. In Burnet last week, school officials met with evacuees staying at Inks Lake State Park in Hoover’s Valley.
“The number we had heard was there were 150 families with up to 50 school-aged children staying there, and so myself and my team went out there to meet with parents and let them know we’re here to help,” said Keith McBurnett, the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District superintendent.
As of Sept. 7, McBurnett said he had heard the number of evacuees staying at the park had shrunk and none had enrolled at BCISD campuses as of yet.
Both superintendents wanted to make sure any students in the area fleeing from Harvey and flooding attributed to the storm were able to return to class.
McBurnett pointed out that even missing a week or two of classes can set students back academically.
“Anytime you miss classes, especially for a long period of time, there’s a risk to students getting behind,” McBurnett said. “If we can get them in class here then they aren’t going to slip behind as much, or at all.”
The Texas Education Agency has relaxed enrollment procedures for students displaced by Hurricane Harvey, allowing districts such as Burnet and Marble Falls to take them in without typical paperwork such as previous school records or residency. Allen added that school staff will work to get the students caught up if they have missed any classes while learning about each child’s academic background. When a student typically transfers into a new school, if those officials and teachers have questions, it’s often as simple as calling the child’s previous school. Allen pointed out that, in this situation, that might not be possible if the student’s home campus is closed and staff aren’t available.
Then, there are the non-academic issues. Students impacted by Hurricane Harvey have left their communities and friends behind, causing much upheaval in their lives.
Changes and transitions — even expected ones such as moving from elementary to middle school — can cause shakeups. The unexpected challenges add to the issue.
“I’m concerned about transition issues,” Allen added. “We’re going to love and inspire these students while their with us, but if they go back to their schools, that’s another transition, another period of time they have to adjust.
“I’m sincerely hopeful the TEA takes this — the changes and issues — the kids faced into account when it comes to the accountability (standards),” he said.
While no Hurricane Harvey-impacted students have yet to enroll in Burnet schools, McBurnett said the district is ready for them.
“Some of the parents we met with (at Inks Lake State Park), they thanked us, but there was still so much uncertainty, and (they) hoped they could get back to their homes soon,” he said. “But if they decide to enroll their kids with us, we’re waiting with open arms.”
During the Marble Falls-Burnet football game Sept. 8 at Mustang Stadium, 2101 Mustang Drive in Marble Falls, the districts will be collecting donations on both the home and visitor sides for Hurricane Harvey relief. The game starts at 7:30 p.m.