On Monday, when Houston schools were supposed to be welcoming back students, the school district had instead been transformed into part of the storm response. School bus drivers were shuttling residents from deluged homes to auditoriums, which had been transformed into makeshift shelters. Ready-to-eat meals, stockpiled in cafeterias, were being distributed to hungry evacuees.
“In many respects, we’re part of the emergency response of the entire city,” said Richard Carranza, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District. “It makes you put a different hat on.”
Hundreds of schools across Southeast Texas remained closed Tuesday as the state continued to deal with the worst natural disaster in its history, with many students, teachers and administrators still hemmed in by flooded roadways. The Texas Education Agency said that 181 school districts canceled or delayed schools Monday and that at least 129 remained closed Tuesday. Many were still uncertain as to when they could open.
The Houston district — one of the nation’s largest, with more than 200,000 students — announced Monday that it would reopen Sept. 5. But as the rain continued to fall, school officials were weighing keeping schools shuttered for even longer.
Colleges and universities in the affected area closed, as well, although many seemed to have escaped the worst of the damage. Rice University, which had trees down and periodically flooded roadways, will remain closed through Wednesday.
The University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center remained closed for outpatient services, appointments and surgeries at its locations throughout the Houston area through Tuesday.
Many students were unable to take standardized tests over the weekend after the College Board closed 138 test centers in Texas.
The University of Houston, where floodwaters rose and fell, will remain closed through Labor Day.
At an apartment building in Houston, about 200 students, including some from the University of Houston, were stranded Sunday night without power, with water rising on the first floor and into cars in the parking lot. They were students from India, some who had arrived in the United States for graduate studies only the day before. They reached out to an Indian student leader, and he and others reached out to the consul general of India in Houston, Anupam Ray. Some students asked him for help as “they were marooned and would be running out of food,” he said.
Sushma Swaraj, the minister of external affairs for India, has been following the situation personally, Ray said, and posting about it on social media to her 9 million Twitter followers.
Overnight, waters receded and the university, the Indian community and others banded together to help, so Ray was able to get to the students Monday and ensure they had food. They were to be relocated to a safer place, he said.
Some educators worried about the safety of youngsters who rely on school meals. Superintendents and teachers surveyed damage at schools — some badly battered by the storms — to discern when it might be safe for students to return. And many were dealing with loss themselves, while bracing to help youngsters deal with the trauma wrought by the storm.
“I’m very concerned for them and their welfare and their parents trying to explain to them what’s going on and what’s going to happen,” said Leslie Barber, who teaches science at Refugio Junior High, where the storm ripped the roof off parts of the freshly renovated school building. “I’m not sure my kids even get the depth of where we’re at at this point.”
Barber said that if schools remained closed for more than a month, she planned to enroll her children elsewhere because she worries about them falling too far behind. But she said she will return to her job no matter what.
Carranza, who had been forced to stay close to his home in central Houston, said school personnel in the district counted at least 35 buildings out of 300 that sustained some type of damage.
Even while buildings managers were pumping water out of flooded schools,Carranza said he was preparing to deploy more crisis counselors to schools — not only for students who may be grappling with losses but for teachers, as well.
“We know that thousands of our families have lost everything,” Carranza said. “This is a tragedy that’s going to run deep.”
Tasha Pate, a fifth-grade teacher at Charlie Marshall Elementary in Aransas Pass, rode out the storm in West Texas and arrived home to find her roof caved in, her ceiling collapsed and felled trees and dead chickens littering the 10 acres of land she shares with her family. The nearby high school sustained serious damage from the storm.
“It is horrific,” Pate said. “There’s horrendous damage everywhere.”
She said she knows her students will have seen much of the same, and she planned to spend the first day of school helping them process the storm.
“Instead of ‘What did you do over the summer?’ I’ll ask, ‘What did you do during the storm?’ ” Pate said. “Then we’re going to have a talk about we’re all here, we’re all healthy, we are blessed, and move on.”
Jen Barnhart, who teaches English at KIPP Houston High School, said some of her students were forced to leave homes inundated by floodwater that swept away family cars. The charter school, which started classes in mid-August, is closed for the week.
Barnhart said she is less concerned about losing a week of lessons than she is about what the storm can teach students.
“Honestly that’s the least of our worries right now,” Barnhart said. “For me this goes so far beyond classroom lessons. This is a lesson about how you help your community and how you rise up in a time of adversity.”