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Schools welcome evacuees

Demopolis City Schools are already home to students from throughout the county, but they have extended their borders much further than ever expected as they have now opened their doors to students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

“We have at least one student whose house is covered with water, and whose school is covered with water,” Dr. Wesley Hill, superintendent of Demopolis City Schools, said.

Demopolis Mayor Cecil Williamson said in the city’s regular council meeting Thursday the schools would open enrollment to evacuee’s children Tuesday, but Hill said the system has already admitted nearly half a dozen children who were displaced by the storm.

Early reports from storm-ravaged areas of Mississippi and Louisiana indicate it may be weeks or even months before some areas are ready to accept residents back. That length of time could severely hinder students’ ability to move on to the next grade, or even graduate, at the end of the school year.

Hill said evacuated students enrolling locally will be treated as residents, and will be admitted immediately.

“Most of them are homeless, or already have a friend or family member living here,” Hill said explaining the residency treatment. “And they will be admitted without transcripts,” he added.

Hill said because of lack of records or other vital information, school officials have to take a student and his or her parents at their word when it comes to placing them in the correct grade.

Though less than a dozen have already come to the school asking about admittance, Hill said he expects more as time goes on.

“I don’t know how many numbers we’re looking at as it goes on,” he said.

Though the influx of new students can be overwhelming to teachers and existing students, Hill said everyone in the DCS system is taking the situation very well.

“Children are best at receiving new people, but we’re all trying to be positive about it,” he said. “I think it will be a positive experience.”

He said Marengo County Schools are helping with the transition as well.

Secondary schools are not the only ones opening their doors to evacuees, the University of West Alabama and other colleges across the state are allowing students from storm-affected universities to enroll at their campuses for Fall term.

“Presidents of state universities had a conference call today to decide what they could do to help,” said Meaghan Bailey, assistant director of marketing at UWA.

“We’re inviting students to enroll as transient students for the Fall term,” she said. “They don’t have to have transcripts, we’re worry about the paperwork later.”

Additionally, Bailey said, some students will be offered room and board.

“We’re offering 30 dorm scholarships for the fall,” she said. “So the first 30 people will have a place to stay as well.”

Bailey said information obtained from the conference call revealed 75,000 displaced college students in Louisiana alone.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is also taking displaced students on a case-by-case basis. For more information contact DeeDee Barnes Bruns, assistant vice president for enrollment management, at (205) 934-4073.