Schooled Reporting on education

Harvey teaches unwelcome lessons

Education | Students in southeast Texas must adapt during a year of uncertainty and disruption
by Leigh Jones
Posted 9/06/17, 03:42 pm

Many students in the Houston area got two more weeks of summer vacation thanks to Harvey, the massive hurricane and tropical storm that dumped a record-breaking 52 inches of rain on parts of the city just as the school year was about to begin. Administrators pledged to start school Sept. 11, but they’re still trying to find enough dry classrooms for all of the students.

Parents and educators might be most worried about the academic setback, but researchers who evaluated students in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina say Harvey’s long-term effects could be much worse.

The Houston Independent School District expected to enroll 218,000 students this year. At least 200 of the district’s 280 campuses sustained damage from the storm. Crews are scrambling to repair schools with minor-to-moderate problems, but some campuses will require extensive overhauls, and some might not be salvageable, according to Superintendent Richard Carranza.

Administrators plan to move students from closed schools to those that can open, but the district doesn’t have enough room for everyone. Carranza said the district might run double shifts at some schools, with one set of students attending classes in the morning and early afternoon and another set coming to campus in the late afternoon and early evening.

In the Humble Independent School District, northeast of Houston, most schools escaped severe damage except for Kingwood High School. Its 2,800 students won’t return to the waterlogged campus for “quite some time,” Principal Ted Landry told parents. Landry hopes to keep the students together by moving all of them to a nearby high school, but he faces the same space constraints as his counterparts in Houston. Like students in Houston, Kingwood students might have to go to class in shifts. Landry also suggested an every-other-day schedule, although some students would have to go to school on Saturday.

Students in New Orleans faced similar upheaval after Katrina in 2005. The constant stress took an emotional toll. Teachers chronicled more instances of aggression on campus, and 42 percent of students met the criteria for a mental healthcare referral. But schools also played a key stabilizing role, researchers found, giving students a sense of normalcy they could count on each day.

Researchers who followed students in New Orleans found Katrina’s negative effects dissipated over time, proving children are resilient and adaptable. Students in Houston and other areas affected by Harvey will at least have pockets of normalcy to remind them recovery will come.

“We will get through this,” said Landry, the Kingwood principal. “Harvey will not hinder us or hold us back.”

See “Harvey Relief” for information on organizations assisting victims affected by the storm.

Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne Ninotska Love, a transgender student at Wellesley College

Men at women’s colleges

Nine women’s colleges now accept men who identify as women. Spelman College, a historically black university for women in Atlanta, became the latest, announcing Tuesday it would no longer consider gender during the application and admissions process.

Transgender advocates hailed the change as indicative of broader support for those with gender dysphoria. But economic and demographic changes also play a role.

Fewer students are graduating from high school and preparing to pursue higher education, and all small private colleges, including single-gender institutions, are feeling the pinch as they compete with larger state schools to fill seats.

At Mills College, a women’s school in Oakland, Calif., 8 percent of its 700 students identify as transgender women. Other schools say they don’t track gender identity and don’t know how many of their students are men presenting themselves as women.

While schools like Mills, the first to accept transgender women, proudly advertise their new policies, others have expanded admissions quietly, afraid the change will anger alumni who see it as an abandonment of the mission of women’s colleges. Some schools insist they will maintain their gender distinction, considering applications from transgender students only if they’ve completed a physical transition from male to female.

Jeff Hodges, a spokesman for Hollins University in Virginia, said that policy “supports how the university defines its mission as an undergraduate institution of higher learning for women.” —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by David Goldman Associated Press/Photo by David Goldman Cameron Padgett

White supremacists spin free speech storyline

Supporters of white supremacist Richard Spencer filed suit last week against the University of Michigan after the school refused to rent space for a planned speech. University officials said they denied the request for a conference room or lecture hall out of “significant concerns about public safety.”

The lawsuit, filed by Georgia State University student Cameron Padgett, a Spencer superfan, insists the University of Michigan’s decision stems from a fear of possible violence by Spencer’s opponents. That amounts to a “heckler’s veto” of free speech rights, the lawsuit claims.

While he may not advocate violence, Spencer is a magnet for it. His supporters and detractors have clashed outside several of his speeches in the last year. But the University of Michigan’s decision came after violent clashes on Aug. 12 at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., left one woman dead. Other rallies and speeches by provocateurs from the “alt-right,” a term Spencer popularized, have drawn antifa supporters who advocate violence against white supremacists and others.

Two other universities also refused Spencer permission to speak on campus following the Charlottesville tragedy, but on Friday, the University of Florida reversed course after Padgett threatened to file suit. University officials invited Padgett to make a second request for space and promised to review it just like any other group’s request. Padgett said he would hold the initial rally planned for Sept. 12 even if he didn’t get a room for Spencer’s speech.

In Michigan, Padgett is asking a federal judge to force the university to rent him space and pay $75,000 in damages. Padgett won a similar suit against Auburn University earlier this year when a federal judge in Alabama ruled Spencer should be allowed to speak on free speech grounds. —L.J.

Sneaky tax credit scholarship

School choice advocates are cheering a tax credit scholarship program approved by Illinois lawmakers last week. The program authorizes up to $75 million in tax credits to businesses or individuals that donate funds to poor students for private schooling. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is a longtime advocate for school choice, but the tax credit program surprised state educators pushing for school finance reform legislation. Lawmakers negotiated the bill behind closed doors and called the tax credit program a vital part of reaching a compromise on the education spending overhaul. Opponents cried foul, noting they didn’t learn about the tax credit program until hours before lawmakers approved it. Illinois joins a group of about 20 states that have a tax credit scholarship program, but opponents have vowed to kill it before it gains traction. Rauner is up for reelection in 2018, and his Democratic opponents promise to make repealing the program a big part of their platform. —L.J.

Is this the high school?

The Colorado Department of Education will spend $9.2 million this year on extra nurses, counselors, and social workers to combat marijuana use among students. The grants, spread among 42 public and charter schools, are funded through taxes on pot sales, which are now legal for Coloradans 21 and older. Legalizing marijuana has created a more casual attitude toward the drug, experts say. About 5 percent of Colorado high schoolers smoke marijuana regularly, a figure that’s held steady since 2005, according to state public health officials. Although legal marijuana hasn’t led to dramatic increases in use by minors, schools are bracing for that potential. “We just want to make sure kids make smarter choices,” said Ellen Kelty, interim director of student equity and opportunity for Denver Public Schools. —L.J.

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Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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  • Rozy's picture
    Posted: Tue, 09/12/2017 10:18 pm

    I attended a high school in San Diego that was on double shifts during the 70's. Enrollment was high and while waiting for another school to be built we adapted. Why so much gloom and doom about the future of the students? My take is that if school wasn't mandatory, but viewed as a privilege, students would endure anything to get an education. As they do in third world countries. But here in the land of plenty school is mandatory and totally boring or irrelevent to most students. So glad we homeschooled our five.