- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

Shelley and Jonathan Midura and their three children think of New Orleans as their only home.

But they say the Arlington County school system has made them feel more than welcome after Hurricane Katrina forced them out of their home.

Mrs. Midura, her husband, Jonathan, 37, a computer engineer, and their children Redding, 10, Justis, 9, and Sophie, 5, fled New Orleans before Katrina battered the Gulf Coast. The family sought shelter in the basement of a friend’s home in Arlington.

“It’s been hard on them,” Mrs. Midura, 39, said of her children, who have been attending school in Arlington since they arrived. “It’s been unsettling to us all, being uprooted like this.”

The Midura children are among hundreds of displaced students who have been taken in by area school districts. The school districts are providing counseling and eschewing normal documentation requirements to get the students quickly acclimated to the new surroundings.

Public schools in the District, Maryland and Virginia are enrolling hurricane evacuees under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which provides for the enrollment of homeless students without immediately obtaining birth records or school transcripts or requiring the children to receive necessary immunizations.

So far, 17 hurricane evacuees have enrolled in Arlington public schools, said spokeswoman Laura Neff-Henderson.

Among them are Redding, Justis, and Sophie Midura, whose mother said they have been adapting quickly to their new school.

They have been making new friends and getting involved in extracurricular activities, Mrs. Midura said.

“The school counselors have been very helpful,” she said. “[The children are] doing pretty well under the circumstances.”

In Fairfax County, 131 students from the Gulf Coast region are enrolled, said county schools spokesman Paul Regnier.

“We’ve had new kids coming in every day,” Mr. Regnier said. As part of a major multiagency effort to get the children settled in, the school system is providing extra counselors, social workers and psychologists, he said.

Officials for Alexandria public schools said five students displaced by Katrina have enrolled.

In Prince George’s County, about 90 displaced students have enrolled as of yesterday, said John White, the county’s schools communications officer.

Officials waive tuition and provide school supplies, uniforms and health services to students in need during the expedited enrollment process.

“The number of [evacuees] has gone up daily,” Mr. White said. “But the whole school community has rallied around these students. Everyone is looking to see what they can do to help.”

Montgomery County has enrolled 127 displaced students, 45 of whom are in high school, schools spokeswoman Kate Harrison said yesterday.

School staff members have been briefed on the enrollment process for homeless students, and the Montgomery County Department of Student Services is available to help families find information and services.

In the District, 32 hurricane victims are enrolled in its public schools, said schools spokeswoman Leonie Campbell.

Cameron Ballantyne, a spokesman for the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area, said he was not sure how many children who are staying at the D.C. Armory were enrolled in D.C. public schools.

But, he said a “handful of mostly elementary school-age” children rode school buses to and from the armory every day.

The D.C. school system is working with the mayor’s office and other city agencies to offer services to the evacuees. The D.C. Department of Health will provide free immunizations.

Children who are living with D.C. residents will attend the school located in the neighborhood where they are staying and will be placed in the grade corresponding to their age.

Formal assessments will be administered at the DCPS Care Center at Shaw Junior High School in Northwest. Follow-up sessions, as necessary, will be conducted with the parents and guardians.

Children not living with family or friends will be placed in schools based on proximity of their living arrangement and availability of programs and services.

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