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Tri-State schools welcome students displaced by Katrina

September 07, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

TRI-STATE

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

Emmett Lewis, a 6-year-old from New Orleans, attended his second first day of school Tuesday, this time at Sharpsburg Elementary School.

Emmett, who started first grade weeks before Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home, is among the estimated 150,000 students displaced by the storm.

Tri-State school officials say at least 11 displaced students have enrolled in their systems since the storm hit and they are expecting more students to arrive in the coming days.

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Emmett is the only displaced student to enroll in Washington County Public Schools, spokeswoman Carol Mowen said. She said she has received phone calls from families hoping to enroll other displaced students.

"We'll probably have a clearer picture by the end of the week," she said.

Berkeley County (W.Va.) Schools has enrolled five students since the storm hit, but district spokeswoman Jaimee Borger said her office had received at least one phone inquiry a day.

Greencastle-Antrim (Pa.) School District has enrolled three students. Chambersburg Area (Pa.) School District has enrolled two. Officials from both districts said they anticipate more enrollments.

Emmett's mother, Laurie Reluzico, 42, said they survived the storm by bunking at a hotel in the French Quarter. They didn't have any injuries.

Reluzico said she was amazed at the amount of damage the storm caused.

"It looked like a bomb had hit," she said. "There was no electricity, and phones weren't working. I couldn't even call my mother to tell her I was alive."

When it was safe, the two got in their 1990 Honda Civic for a two-day drive to Sharpsburg, where her mother and sisters live.

"I just prayed every second that it wouldn't break down," she said. "I was just glad to have a car."

Reluzico said enrolling her son at Sharpsburg Elementary School was a priority once she made it to town. As search and rescue efforts continue in New Orleans, school officials are unable to say when their schools will reopen.

"I have a 6-year-old son. I can't have him missing a whole year of school," Reluzico said.

The Louisiana Department of Education said in a statement last week that it would make available basic student information in order to track student transfers.

Hurricane victims unable to provide key documents such as health and birth records will still be admitted to Tri-State schools, officials said.

Public schools in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, adhering to a federal provision for homeless students, have waived rules regarding birth and health records for hurricane victims. Schools also are providing immunization shots when needed.

Mowen said state officials told schools to apply the honor system when accepting students' grade levels. They also were told to waive school fees and provide uniforms and school supplies.

"Our position is to enroll first and ask questions later," Maryland Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said in a statement.

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