The New American Refugees
By Jane Weinkrantz
In 2001, I attended a staff development course on teaching English language learners (ELLs), which is to say, students whose first language is not English. The instructor mentioned that
Now, I am asking the same question. But the children I am thinking of are
Americans, the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Their schools have been demolished
and will not open until December, at the earliest. But
even if schools in
after Hurricane Katrina, I was
heartened to hear that school districts across the country are taking in the
youngest victims of Hurricane Katrina and providing them with books, lunches
and, of course, instruction, all in
keeping with a federal law that mandates schools to enroll homeless children
immediately, regardless of what documentation they are able or unable to
provide. However, these initiatives are being taken by state and local
governments and even individual schools. What the federal government is doing is
a bit more sketchy.
A visit to the Department of
Education’s website offers the following information, Laura Bush and Secretary
of Education Spellings visited
other words, the government is helping the children affected by the hurricane by
setting up a website so the rest of us can help them. They are, in cooperative
learning terms, merely the facilitator. The web page simply offers links to
forms for offering or requesting services. A disclaimer at the bottom of the
page states that none of the listings have been vested and that you donate to
them at your discretion. In other words, whether you are donating or receiving
services, you are pretty much on your own. Now, I know it was Bush pere
who came up with the idea of a “million points of light” and that his son is
a big booster of faith based initiatives, but Hurricane Katrina is no time to
prove a point. The children of
than sending Laura and Margaret Spellings out to drum up assistance and setting
up the web page, the Department of Education has taken the following steps,
according to www.ed.gov/hurricane:
1. A task force meeting of over 50 national education leaders took place to coordinate and deploy resources, and the Department is in continuous contact with state and local education leaders to provide guidance and support.
Student loan borrowers living in affected areas may delay payments on their
loans without penalty, and deadlines for applying to a number of higher
education programs have been extended until at least
3. The Department is examining ways to redirect existing funds toward relief efforts, and is working closely with Congress to best meet the needs of children, families and schools affected by this tragedy.
4. On a case-specific basis, the Department of Education will be flexible with certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act for affected states.
You may be thinking, “Shucks, at least those states
figured out how to get rid of NCLB,”---I know I am---but the sad fact is that
these baby steps on the part of the government demonstrate complete ignorance
and/or indifference to the crisis Hurricane Katrina created and its impact on
public education. “ In some ways, this is comparable to the close of the Civil
War or the Dust bowl, but we have greater numbers now, and there’s the
suddenness of this movement---within a day or two, nearly a million people left
their homes,” Jeff Ferrell, a professor of sociology at
Indeed, what will happen over the next few months, even the next few years, as children displaced by the hurricane enter school districts already burdened with large classes and supply shortages? As they struggle to catch up after missing school for months or more in a new school in a new state with an entirely different curriculum? As they deal with the emotional and psychological trauma of losing their homes and, in some cases, their families? As high school students too far behind to graduate on time drop out after relocating? As special ed students without their records re-enter classrooms and try to learn as they best they can? As teachers untrained to deal with the new American refugees exhaust their proven strategies and are called upon to create new ones to deal with this breed of student?
President Bush thanks teachers and PTAs for “doing their duty” in response to Hurricane Katrina. Let us remind him of his duty, which, he is once again shirking.
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