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South Texas Students Who Evacuated From Harvey Head Back To School In Dallas

Bill Zeeble
Thirty-nine Harvey evacuees sheltered in the Walnut Hill Recreation Center were able to attend school free this week thanks to Good Shepherd Episcopal School.

Among the hundreds of Harvey evacuees currently in Dallas are children who need to go to school. A small private school stepped up initially, but the district will have to take in more students and provide a long-term solution.

Searching for normalcy

The Walnut Hill Recreation Center, a few miles north of downtown, was the city’s first shelter set up for Harvey evacuees. Some who fled the hurricane-turned-tropical storm have been here nearly a week already. That’s given Kristal Braddock, from the Houston suburb of Pasadena, a chance to get her bearings.

“I left early before the storm," Braddock says. "Something told me to get out, so I left. I have seven kids so I just wanted to be on the safe side because we got stuck during Hurricane Ike, and I didn’t want to go through that again.”

At the shelter, Braddock learned about Good Shepherd Episcopal School, a private campus near the recreation center. It offered free classes and transportation. Braddock took the offer. Her 9-year-old son, Armani, likes it.

“The people here are nice. I went to art,” he says.

Head of Good Shepherd Julie McLeod realized quickly that her school was close to the shelter. That’s when she worked quickly with her team to bring students who evacuated to school.

“We knew we needed to try to pull something together to make it a memorable first day of school for them, and also to give them a little more normalcy in their world right now,” McLeod says. “It’s pretty turned upside down. And to give the parents a little bit of time to think through their options and things like that.”

McLeod says the experience has been memorable for all the kids at Good Shepherd. Heaven Boatner is an 11 year-old from Houston. What did she do at Good Shepherd?

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Heaven Boatner's a fifth grader from Houston who went to Good Shepherd Episcopal School.

“Played games. Do work, and go to recess and P.E.,” she says.

And what did she learn?

“Show respect, be kind and be playful. And helpful.”

Dallas ISD's plan

This helpful school plan is not expected to last, however. Good Shepherd stepped up temporarily, in part because it could, McLeod says.

Being an independent school and a smaller one, too, you’re a little more nimble. So we don’t have to turn the Titanic, we just have to turn a little ship,” McLeod says.

The big ship is the Dallas independent school district. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa says more than 100 evacuees have already started in Dallas ISD. The state considers student evacuees in shelters to be homeless. That means they’re entitled to an education in the local public school, Hinojosa says the district’s ready for students who’ve been traumatized by the storm.

“The ones that come here are the ones that have nowhere else to go,” Hinojosa says. “So we’ll play it by ear. We’re prepared no matter what. Luckily, we have capacity at several schools.”

Students staying in shelters will attend Dallas schools nearest to them.  Transportation’s provided. Hinojosa says the district wants to make school as worry-free as possible for families in shelters.

"School is comfortable and familiar to them even if it's in a different location."

“They don’t have to worry about shot records. They don’t have to worry about other records. We have 30 days to get shot records. We have all kinds of time to get other records because these students are designated as homeless, and school is comfortable and familiar to them even if it’s in a different location,” Hinojosa says.

He adds that Dallas ISD learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when the district welcomed students fleeing the storm. One lesson: He doesn’t figure this to end any time soon.

“So this could be several weeks and months,” Hinojosa says. “I expect we’ll have a significant number of students here when the calendar turns to 2018.”

How many in that number? He’s not sure, but he wouldn’t be surprised if at least 500 students end up in Dallas schools.