- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

The first day of school in Northern Virginia yesterday symbolized the start of a new life for some children whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, as area officials opened their doors to many displaced students from the Gulf Coast.

On the day after Labor Day, most public schools opened in Alexandria, and in Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties.

So far, 11 children from devastated parts of the Gulf Coast have registered to attend school in Arlington County.

“There’s concern for the families in the Gulf Coast and we want to provide some stability in the lives of those students,” said Robert Smith, Arlington County schools superintendent. “I suspect in most of these cases we’re dealing with family members taking in these children.”

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

About 25 displaced students have enrolled to attend school in Prince George’s County. Officials have been told to waive tuition and provide school supplies to students in need during the expedited enrollment process.

Montgomery County has enrolled eight displaced students, and Alexandria has enrolled three. School officials in Anne Arundel and Fairfax counties said they did not have a count of how many displaced students had been enrolled in their respective school systems.

D.C. officials also did not know how many hurricane victims were enrolled, but said staff members were registering students arriving from the Gulf Coast at Shaw Junior High School in Northwest and at the D.C. Armory.

Patricia Williams, a D.C. school official, said students in need will receive free immunizations, school meals and school supplies.

“The most important thing is the superintendent wants these families and these children to know they are absolutely welcome in the District of Columbia public schools,” she said. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure their transition is as smooth as possible because they’ve already been through enough.”

Catholic schools within the Archdiocese of Washington have enrolled 31 students from the Gulf Coast.

Within minutes after the newly built South County Secondary School in Lorton opened its doors, its 2,500 students were asked to donate toiletries, clothing, baby items, bedding and canned food for Katrina victims.

School counselor Marci Norem said two tractor-trailers loaded with 4,620 gallons of water and 20,000 meals ready to eat from a local business was expected to arrive at the school today to pick up donated items and take them to Biloxi, Miss.

By yesterday afternoon, the school lobby was filled with so many goods that Miss Norem was searching for more boxes.

Principal Dale Rumberger called the service project “a teachable moment.”

“You’re never too busy to give,” he said.

Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Jack D. Dale, who toured the new 410,000 square-foot school yesterday, said the school system has expedited registration for those displaced by Katrina and will hire more teachers if necessary.

“I know we have kids throughout the county from different parts of the Katrina disaster. We’re just saying all kids are welcome,” said Mr. Dale, who heads up Virginia’s largest public school system of about 165,000 students.

South County was built on 73 acres across a field from the former Lorton Prison. Its enrollment will mostly alleviate Hayfield Secondary School near Fort Belvoir, Mr. Dale said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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