Homeschoolers, Charters Reach Out to Katrina Victims

Published November 1, 2005

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, homeschooling families and charter schools nationwide have created ongoing efforts to help evacuees and other victims of the storm.

The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), based in Purcellville, Virginia, responded faster than the federal government in devising ways for members of the homeschooling community to help their own. Within two days, the grassroots organization had more offers to help replace curricula, give cash donations, and provide housing and jobs than it had takers. More than a month later, as the Gulf Coast region was still getting its power back on, victims were beginning to take them up on the offers.

“We have received over $110,000 in donations from homeschoolers to help other homeschoolers,” said Patty Taylor, the HSLDA’s hurricane fund administrator. “We are replacing people’s curricula, if they lost it in the flooding or won’t have access to it for a significant time. We are also giving people $1,000 to $3,000 in emergency funds if they need help getting back on their feet. We even had a family write in and say they couldn’t house anyone but they would like to adopt a family for Christmas and give them Christmas gifts.”

By early October, Taylor said, the HSLDA had received 4,200 e-mails offering help for hurricane victims, had given out emergency relief checks totaling $34,700, and was still matching victims with housing offers.

Charter Schools React

Charter schools nationwide also were busy with fundraising and donation drives for victims, housing and schooling evacuees, and helping the initial search and rescue efforts in Louisiana.

The Center for Education Reform, a grassroots group that advocates for stronger charter school laws and other reforms, responded by setting up a Children’s Emergency Education Hotline. (See “Technology Unites Hurricane Victims, Helpers” on this page.) Within a week, 205 charter schools from 20 states had made room for 5,000 displaced students in their classrooms.

“Charter schools have really come together and filled this need,” said Lynn Kepford, director of the National Charter Schools Clearinghouse in Tempe, Arizona. “They’re exempt from a lot of the state and local education regulations, so they have more flexibility and are better able to accept the students.”

School Provided Direct Help

At Paradigm Accelerated Charter School–a unique K-12 school that focuses on teaching character and reclaiming at-risk youth from gangs in central Texas–staff and all 72 students alike practiced what they were taught.

As soon as Katrina struck, said Ronald Johnson, Ph.D., chairman of the school’s board, principal Darren Browder left for Louisiana, driving a school bus as part of a convoy doing search-and-rescue work directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. After two days, he drove evacuees to Austin.

In the meantime, the school was hard at work, setting aside an annex building as a collection point for donated goods. In conjunction with local churches, Spanish teacher Tom Shelton arranged large donations from Walgreens and Wal-Mart stores and sent two moving vans filled with everything from water and diapers to Band-Aids and hydrogen peroxide to Louisiana. Students put together one-gallon Ziploc bags of emergency kits filled with personal care items such as soap and toothbrushes. And as evacuees began filtering into local shelters, the school donated its athletic mats for temporary bedding.

“One of our teachers [Rebecca Browder, the principal’s wife] found 20 Mexican people just standing by the side of the road, wondering what to do,” Johnson said, “so she just said, ‘Come on with me,’ and kept them at her house for three days. The principal was in Louisiana at the time.

“She didn’t even ask him.”

Karla Dial ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.