Sunday, September 25, 2005

AREVA MARTIN: 'No Child Left Behind' Strands Young Hurricane Victims --

By Areva D. Martin, Esq.

...School records and test scores have been destroyed, leaving school officials concerned about how to insure that students are placed in the correct grade and receive the appropriate services.

Ordinarily, parents or caregivers would be able to assist in reconstructing much needed school records, however, many parents have been separated from their children and worse than that, thousands are completely distraught by the eyewitness accounts of death and destruction caused by the storm. Indeed, watching dead bodies float in infested waters for days on end has taken its toll on local residents. Some reports suggest that over 150,000 children from counties in Louisiana and Mississippi may be unable to return to school for at least half, if not, the entire 2005-2006 school year...

...In the midst of these harrowing events, school districts in
Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama that accept children from the devastated areas are being assured that some of the federal funding requirements of NCLB, will be waived in order to expedite the enrollment of students. According to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in a NPR interview, the federal government will issue waivers to those districts that assist in providing classrooms to those students who are displaced. This waiver, amongst other things, will include allowing students to be bused and allowing displaced teachers from New Orleans and Jefferson parishes to work in other states.

However, Secretary Spellings confirms in a recent NPR interview that this “flexibility” does not extend to school districts throughout the nation that enroll students that have been displaced. The presence of students in some districts, according to Secretary Spellings, is not sufficient for the suspension of accountability requirements of President Bush’s NCLB.

Secretary Spellings' pronouncement is similar to the President’s response to the entire New Orleans tragedy: too little and too late. It is absurd for the federal government to vow to assist families in finding schools to enroll students, yet be unwilling to give those schools all, not just some, of the tools needed to really provide the assistance. To force schools to meet the stringent requirements of NCLB is absurd. Many of the students that will be enrolling in schools throughout the nation have absolutely no idea how long they will remain in these schools, many will have no school records, and almost all, will be so traumatized as a result of the last two weeks’ events that performing at any level will be a complete miracle...

...If the Bush administration is really serious about doing everything within its power to assist the Hurricane victims, and particularly the children of the torn region, at the very least, it must be open to the possibility of reviewing on a case by case basis the waiver of the stringent requirements of NCLB for any school district throughout the nation that opens its doors to the tens of thousands of displaced students....Providing all the aid that the families in the Gulf region need and require is not simply a matter of choice, but a national imperative. And as the families and leaders of Louisiana and Mississippi struggle to put their lives back together, hopefully, the enrollment of their children in schools will not become yet another burden to bear.

Areva D. Martin, Esq. is managing partner of Martin & Martin, LLP in Los Angeles, where her practice includes civil litigation with an emphasis on special education, disability discrimination and labor and employment litigation. She represents families in IEPs, mediations and due process hearings and can be reached at 213-388-4747 or www.

This article was originally printed in the Los Angeles Daily Journal on September 13, 2005.

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