Vermont opens its schools to refugees
MONTPELIER — Any of the estimated 170,000 students displaced by Hurricane Katrina would be welcomed in any of Vermont's public schools, the state's education commissioner said Friday.
"Thank you for your help in making this terrible time for these students a little easier," Richard Cate wrote in a letter to the principals and superintendents in Vermont's 250-plus school districts.
At least a half-dozen schools had contacted Cate's office in the last two days seeking information about how to enroll students whose parents have evacuated to Vermont, some 1,600 miles from storm-ravaged New Orleans.
Since their schools — and, most likely their homes — have been rendered useless for the next several months, students from New Orleans or other affected parts of the Gulf Coast are considered homeless under Vermont's education laws.
"These students are entitled to the same services as any other student who is a resident of your district," Cate wrote. "Obviously, transfer of academic and immunization records will, at best, be slow in coming. Please do not delay admission of students for this reason and please accommodate these students as best you can under these difficult circumstances."
School systems around the country are rallying around the needs of students shut out of classrooms in the wake of Katrina's almost unprecedented destruction. And while Vermont education officials cannot say how many Louisiana students are trying to enroll in the state's schools, at least one displaced student has enrolled in Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester and another in Essex.
Louisiana education officials have implored districts in that state and anywhere else to help get students into schools.
"I implore you to take care of the children who come to your district," Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard said on the state's education department Web site. "We will worry about school records, funding payrolls and waivers. Let us work out those details. Right now, I want parents and school systems to make sure these children have the stability of a classroom as soon as possible."
More than 135,000 students in and around New Orleans will be shut out of their classrooms indefinitely; another 35,000 from Mississippi also are unable to attend class.
In addition to public school students, thousands of university students cannot begin classes this fall. The University of Vermont announced that it had accepted at least two students from Tulane University. Others are sure to follow, officials said.
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