Houston Schools Assess Harvey's Damage; Students Due Back Next Week

Sep 6, 2017
Originally published on September 8, 2017 8:00 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's check back on the situation in Houston. For the first time since Harvey hit, principals and administrators were expected back at their schools in the city yesterday. The districts 200,000 students are due back in class next week. It is clear school leaders have a lot of work to do before then. Here is Laura Isensee from Houston Public Media.

LAURA ISENSEE, BYLINE: Inside the gym at Forest Brook Middle School, where kids once played basketball, dozens of workers are pulling up the floorboards and hammering down exposed nails. This is just one of dozens of schools in the Houston district that needs major cleanup and repairs. Here, Harvey flooded the entire first floor with a foot of water that stood for three days. Superintendent Richard Carranza says now it's drying out.

RICHARD CARRANZA: You see these really eerie-looking plastic tubes throughout the hallways. And these are the vents where we're drying out the building.

ISENSEE: He walks through the main hallway where salvaged books are stacked waist high. Materials that have been soaked and ruined are bundled in plastic bags. And it actually doesn't smell that bad - now at least. Before, Carranza says...

CARRANZA: Imagine putting dirty towels in a washing machine and then forgetting to turn it on for a month. That's kind of what it smelled like. But it's working.

ISENSEE: But still, he says, repairs here could take another month. And because kids are supposed to start school Monday, administrators have to figure out where to send Forest Brook's 900 displaced students. District-wide, that number could be much higher.

CARRANZA: It could get as much as 20,000 - 25,000. It just depends what we're finding.

ISENSEE: So far, they found major damage at about a quarter of Houston's nearly 300 schools. At least seven campuses won't open for the foreseeable future. And there's no cost estimate yet for repairs. More damage is being discovered. But at Forest Brook, it's clear the cleanup is expensive and only just beginning. Superintendent Carranza.

CARRANZA: How are we going to move these case - bookcases back in the library? When is the carpet coming for the library? Oh, is the - are the computers actually up and OK?

ISENSEE: On the other side of the district, Rene Sanchez, the principal of Chavez High School, says he feels blessed his campus was spared any major damage.

RENE SANCHEZ: It's great to be back on campus because that means, you know, it's only a matter of time before the students come back. And we can try to get back to some sense of normalcy.

ISENSEE: But he's already thinking ahead to when students are supposed to start next week.

SANCHEZ: Because even more so than before, when we were trying to help students get ready for college and career and life, right now we have to be able to kind of add that now to that.

ISENSEE: Sanchez says if that means taking in more students who've been displaced, he's ready to do that. For NPR News, I'm Laura Isensee, Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.