Houston News & Search
Photo: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle
More than 10,000 Houston Independent School District students are expected to start classes in temporary quarters as officials work to repair hundreds of campuses damaged by Hurricane Harvey, Superintendent Richard Carranza said Saturday.
Carranza said the district still plans to start school on Sept. 11, though officials have not yet decided which campuses will be temporarily closed or where displaced students will be sent. Those calls will be made no earlier than Tuesday, he said.
“There is that slight chance there will be a delay past Sept. 11, but we’re working with all due haste to make sure we’re going to meet that deadline,” Carranza said. “There has always been the caveat that we will not put students and staff in harm’s way.”
The damage estimates come as school districts across the Houston area struggled to open their doors after widespread flooding. Cy-Fair ISD on Saturday pushed its start date back to Sept. 11, citing sewage issues at several schools.
Humble ISD set a Sept. 7 return date, but alerted parents Saturday that Kingwood High School could be closed all year.
“Flood waters devastated KHS,” according to a notice posted on the district’s website. “The building is unsafe and unhealthy.”
Most area districts — including Conroe, Pearland and Aldine — are set to start sometime this week. Nine districts will join HISD and Cy-Fair with a Sept. 11 start date, including Katy, Pasadena and Spring. Fort Bend ISD is set to start Sept. 12.
Spring Branch ISD, in heavily damaged west and northwest Harris County, has not yet set a start date.
In Houston ISD, at least 200 of the 245 schools inspected were found to have sustained damage, officials said. Of those, 53 sustained “major” damage and 22 had “extensive” damage, the most severe label given by district officials.
Another 30 or so schools were still being inspected, including 15 that had been inaccessible because of severe flooding around the buildings, HISD Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby said early Saturday. The district operates 280 schools.
“There may be a situation where a school is so badly damaged that we may not be able to re-open that school,” Carranza said, after a tour of waterlogged Hilliard Elementary in northeast Houston on Saturday. “It’s too early right now to make that call.”
‘Extreme damage’ for some schools
In Houston ISD, the storm spared virtually no corner of the district, with schools in northeast, west and southwest Houston among the most damaged, Board President Wanda Adams said.
“There are a couple of schools over there that are probably in the ‘extreme’ damage area – Westbury, Memorial, Braeswood, Sharpstown, those particular areas,” Adams said.
To accommodate displaced students, Carranza said he’s considering “double shifts” at some campuses when school resumes.
Under that scenario, students from one school would attend classes in the morning to early afternoon. Then students from another school would come into the same building for classes in the early afternoon to evening. If that tactic is used, the school day would likely be compressed by about an hour.
“We’re willing to look at that,” Carranza said. “Doesn’t mean we’re going to do that, but that’s just one of the many complications we’re looking into.”
Administrators will try to keep displaced students as close as possible to their home schools, Carranza said. The estimated number of students affected by displacement could rise or fall in coming days, officials said.
HISD is expected to serve about 218,000 students this year.
HISD officials have been working round-the-clock to survey the damage, test for air quality and prepare campuses for students, Busby said.
In the schools that sustained the worst flooding, workers will have to tear out large parts of every piece of drywall and sheetrock to check for mold. District staff will also test electronics for safe use.
Throughout the storm, electricity continued to flow to virtually all schools, keeping air conditioners running and reducing the threat of mold.
“That’s the easy part of the remediation process, to have cool air running continuously until we can cut out and dry and remediate areas,” Busby said.
HISD administrators and six board members spoke Saturday while touring Hilliard Elementary, which took on up to four feet of water during the heaviest rains from Harvey.
Inside, small pools of standing water remained on Saturday. Several crumbled ceiling tiles had fallen to the floor, and office equipment was piled into dry areas. A handful of workers in hard hats milled about.
The school’s principal, Edrick Moultry, said campus staff members have been reaching out to parents of the 650 students expected on the first day of school. Moultry said he doesn’t know where his students will attend school, leaving him unable to make concrete plans.
“My hope is that they don’t disperse the kids,” Moultry said. “We want to keep all of our students as a community, keep them a family. That way, if they do decide to revitalize the building, whenever they decide to do it, (students) will have some type of stability.”
Carranza said district staff have been communicating with Texas Education Agency officials about several pressing questions following the storm:
How will average daily attendance totals, which dictate state funding, be measured? Will the state’s standardized tests, called STAAR, still be administered as usual? Is the district still at risk of state takeover or closure of campuses under a new state law enacted in 2015?
None of those questions has been definitively answered, Carranza said.
“All of us, I think, are starting to put those issues on the table,” Carranza said. “Until school opens, it’s all theoretical at this point.”
‘Harvey will not hinder us’
Other school districts are also assessing the storm’s impact.
The Kingwood area in northeast Harris County was particularly hard hit by flooding after rising waters forced evacuations.
Most schools in Humble ISD are expected to be ready for classes to start Thursday, but Kingwood High School is not among them, according to a letter to parents from Principal Ted Landry.
“It is a foregone conclusion that Kingwood High School will not be open for quite some time,” he said. “Our campus sustained extensive damage and must be closed until repairs can be made to welcome our Kingwood Mustangs back into their school.”
The district is working to send the school’s nearly 2,800 students to Summer Creek High School, where the opening of school was pushed back to Sept. 11. Officials are considering half-day schedules or sending one group of students to school on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and another group on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
The district is resisting efforts by the Texas Education Agency to disperse students to other campuses for the school year, Landry wrote.
“We will get through this,” Landry said. “Harvey will not hinder us or hold us back.”
Attendance at Summer Creek would require a bus ride of up to 45 minutes for some Kingwood students, according to the district’s website. Closer campuses were either too large or too small to accommodate the whole student body.
To the south, Pasadena ISD reported as of Saturday that three schools — Frazier and Williams elementary schools, and Thompson Intermediate School — could begin classes later than the district’s Sept. 11 start date because of damage sustained in the flooding.
To the west in Katy, where classes are also set to start Sept. 11, two schools — Creech Elementary and Beck Junior High — sustained “severe water damage that will require significant time to repair and restore,” according to a message posted online from Superintendent Lance Hindt.
In all, 14 campuses sit in neighborhoods directly impacted by flooding, Hindt said.
District officials haven’t said where those students would attend classes or whether the start date would change.
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