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Hurricane Katrina: Schools using unique ways to help displaced

By Johnny Jackson

For a massive humanitarian effort to seek and assist victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Clayton County school district too is helping families with some lesser talked-about essentials.

The school district will help displaced families get back on their feet with education and employment.

Officials said the matter of retaining refugees in need is, indeed, paramount despite concerns that accompany the unexpected mass influx of displaced souls.

"School can provide these children with stability and security," said Superintendent Barbara Pulliam. "Toward that end, our district will make the services of our school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists, and school nurses available to assist these children and their families through this time of displacement.

"These children have experienced the double trauma of a natural disaster and of displacement caused by that natural disaster," she said. "Re-establishing the school routine is a major step toward diminishing the impact of this trauma on these young lives. We stand ready to offer our resources to these children and welcome them to remain a part of our district for as long as necessary."

Officials do not know yet what the immediate impact might be in terms of over-crowding in county schools, but "we're going to deal with it the best we can," said spokesman Charles White. "I think that our effort is going to place the children in schools near where they live."

The new students will be assessed for placement in school, White said. Those students, classified as "homeless" or refugees, will be eligible for free meals under the federal nutrition program once they have enrolled. And transportation will be provided, including services under programs like IDEA and ESOL.

He said the school district may get additional state funding and some federal support soon under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act of 1987, which "provides assistance to homeless individuals (refugees)."

The school district is also accepting applications from displaced, qualified individuals. So far, about 20 refugees have turned out to apply for jobs in the school district, where presently there are more than 44 certified and classified vacancies.

"We've talked to about 20 people over the last two days who were looking for employees," said Jackie Hubbert, assistant superintendent for Human Resources. "We realize that some of them came with almost nothing. And as always, you have to treat people with compassion. We're giving them a little extra time to receive their paperwork. We expect that some of them will be starting at work as soon as Tuesday."

She said Clayton County Public Schools job applications are still available at several assistance sites.

"It's important for people to know about this, because so many people don't," Charles White said.

For more, contact a school counselor or social worker in your area.

jjackson@news-daily.com