Why would a district on Galveston Bay, encompassing a city that experienced more than 40 inches of rain over a five-day period, not qualify for the accountability waiver? Our proactive approach in providing sustainable structures that helped with our community’s recovery and return to normalcy is one of the reasons.
Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Ike just nine years ago, one of La Porte ISD’s strategic goals was to improve our facilities as they relate to hurricane mitigation. While this effort began even prior to Hurricane Ike, with the construction of our Instructional Technology Center also designed to serve as a ride-out center for city and school district personnel, our efforts began in earnest with the replacement of Bayshore Elementary after it was significantly damaged during Ike. The new Bayshore was constructed one mile inland, at a level above base elevation, and hardened to withstand a Category 4 hurricane. Community support of the 2014 bond program enabled the district to demolish and rebuild two other schools and renovate all other existing facilities. The major rebuild of La Porte High School, coupled with $3 million in mitigation that also benefitted the neighborhood, prevented the flooding of the school during Hurricane Harvey, even though the water surrounding the campus prompted the social media rumor exclaiming, “Rest in Peace, LPHS.”
While school district facilities fared well during Hurricane Harvey, the homes of many area residents did not. Homes began to flood early Sunday morning, Aug. 26, resulting in widespread damage to 475 to 500 residences and a few businesses in the City of La Porte, with damages totaling $24 million. As we checked on our district families and assessed our own facilities, making any needed repairs, we contemplated the date that we would re-open our schools. Our students had only gone to school two days (Aug. 23 and 24) before we closed our doors due to the hurricane, yet our decision to start classes as soon as possible was focused on a humanitarian mission rather than an educational one. We knew that when children came back to school, they would have a safe, air conditioned environment. At school, we could provide them with free breakfasts and lunches and meet other basic needs as required so that families that lost wages or experienced damages to their home could get back on their feet. When they were in their classrooms, the adults in their lives could deal with the problems caused by Harvey, knowing that their children were well cared for by teachers and support staff. Therefore, we decided to open our doors again on Wednesday, Sept. 6.
To receive a waiver under the Hurricane Harvey Provision, as outlined by the Texas Education Agency, districts had to meet at least one of four criteria. A campus or district that was reported to TEA as being closed for 10 or more instructional days due to Hurricane Harvey would be evaluated under the Hurricane Harvey Provision; La Porte ISD campuses were closed for only seven days.
La Porte ISD was among the districts that asked Commissioner Mike Morath to waive the school ratings for all schools in the Hurricane Harvey state-declared disaster area, as was done after Hurricane Ike. Most of the damage from Hurricane Ike was the result of storm surge and high winds, while Hurricane Harvey was a rainfall flood event. During Ike, over 8,000 La Porte homes and 200 businesses sustained damage, primarily due to wind.
With that said, one criterion that was not considered in the granting of waivers was the emotional toll that Hurricane Ike had on the students and staff who lived through the storm in 2009. A significant percent of our current students experienced Hurricane Ike first-hand, and they and their siblings were in the STAAR testing grades during the 2017-18 school year. Thirty-eight percent of our faculty members also experienced Hurricane Ike as employees of our school district. There is no doubt that their experience of Hurricane Ike traumatized their emotions and made an impact on their perspective of Harvey. The effects of post-traumatic stress have been well documented, and in my observation, living through Hurricane Ike exponentially increased the threat, experience and aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
My reservations and concerns about the A-F accountability system completely withstanding, I find it regretful that the Commissioner did not accept our arguments, leaving the appearance that the decision was purely mathematical. The request for the Commissioner to revisit his criteria for exemption was purposed in having him examine his office’s decision-making models, priorities and principles, not by any attempt to obscure our students’ performance. Regardless of whether La Porte ISD received the waiver, in keeping with our practice and history, accountability and student performance information for our district and campuses would have been released. We are very proud of the efforts of our students, faculty and staff as they continue to work toward success, and even more so in the face of the regional trauma that was, and in many ways remains, Harvey’s legacy.