It remains unknown how long the newcomers will stay. For now, this much is clear: The Prince George's County public schools are drawing more students displaced by Hurricane Katrina than any other school system in the Washington area.
As of Monday, the county schools had enrolled 176 children displaced after the storm hit Louisiana and Mississippi in late August, exceeding totals in the Montgomery County system (163) and the Fairfax County system (167).
The evacuee-student count in Prince George's also has risen at a faster rate than the populations in Montgomery and Fairfax, both of which initially had more Katrina evacuees than Prince George's. In addition, at least seven educators from hurricane-stricken regions have taken teaching jobs in Prince George's.
The federal government is likely to reimburse public schools for costs tied to the additional enrollment. The Bush administration has proposed up to $7,500 per student.
The evacuees, though growing in number, are a tiny fraction of the student population in the three systems. Prince George's and Montgomery schools each have an estimated 139,000 or more students; Fairfax schools have about 165,000.
The evacuees are categorized as homeless, guaranteeing them certain aid under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, including the right to speedy enrollment even if students lack medical, academic or proof-of-residency records. But county school officials said they are eager to make them feel at home.
Facing 'Urgent Problems'
Last week the county school board unanimously endorsed a blueprint for building and renovating schools from 2007 to 2012. Projects include a new elementary school in Accokeek by 2010, a renovation of Doswell E. Brooks Elementary in Capitol Heights by 2008 and major renovations of Fairmont Heights, Central and High Point high schools, with dates not yet determined.
Many parents and teachers don't need a six-year capital improvement plan to know that their schools are in poor shape. The average age of facilities in the system is 41 years. This is a sensitive matter for the school system, which has several newly minted schools and others that are badly deteriorated.
"Most of the schools in Prince George's County are reaching the end of the useful life of many of their building systems," the board-approved plan stated. "These deteriorated systems, which include leaking roofs, poorly insulated windows and inadequate heating and air-cooling, create environments that are detrimental to the learning capacities of children."
Board member Robert O. Duncan (Laurel) said that the school system is making only halting progress toward its goal of moving sixth-graders out of elementary schools and into middle schools -- a key objective of some of the renovations. He said there are now 2,400 sixth-graders in middle schools and 7,800 in elementary schools countywide. "These are urgent problems," Duncan said.
The school system's plan now heads to the county and state governments for approval.
Diabetes Expo on Saturday
The school system, in conjunction with the American Diabetes Association and the Prince George's County Health Department, will hold an exposition Saturday to educate parents and children about diabetes.
The free event will be from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex, 8001 Sheriff Rd., in Landover. Nutritionists, fitness experts and doctors will be on hand to talk about the disease. There will also be cooking demonstrations and exercise workshops.
Publicizing information about diabetes has become a cause for school board Vice Chairman Howard W. Stone Jr. (Mitchellville). He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in January, and gives himself insulin shots twice a day to keep the disease in check. "That's the big thing -- you learn to live with it," Stone said.
For more information, call 301-780- 5905.