BELLE CHASSE, La. (AP) — Tammy Galjour already has a job, working 12-hour shifts as an X-ray technician at a hospital in this suburb just outside New Orleans.
But Mrs. Galjour — like hundreds of other parents across Louisiana — has been handed a second, unpaid job: She will be home-schooling her 12-year-old son, at least until classes start again in Plaquemines Parish, where six of nine schools were washed away by Hurricane Katrina.
“I think it will be a challenge just to get him to sit down and listen to me,” she said.
Across Louisiana, families are turning to home schooling as officials scramble to reopen shuttered schools. At least 800 families in Plaquemines Parish alone are affected, school officials said.
Nationally, about 1.1 million students are home-schooled, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Usually, though, it’s not a decision made under duress because home schooling demands patience and commitment from both parents and students.
“This is a beautiful short-term solution, especially given where we are now,” said Stephanie Riegel, a New Orleans resident now relocated to Baton Rouge with twin 9-year-old girls.
Louisiana has done its best to encourage parents not to leave the public school system, urging them instead to enroll their children in schools wherever they’ve landed, said Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. The East Baton Rouge Parish school district, for example, has taken in more than 2,000 new students since Katrina struck.
But other parents have pulled back, some because they eventually hope to send their children back to their local schools. Others simply got fed up with seeing their children in new, unfamiliar and crowded classrooms.
“At her school in East Baton Rouge, there were four drug busts one day, and the next someone was selling pills,” said Michelle Pellegal, gesturing at her 16-year-old daughter, April Kent. “She said: ‘I can’t go to that school anymore.’”
Mrs. Pellegal said she will oversee her daughter’s lessons after work until Plaquemines Parish schools reopen.
Some, like Pam Ricouard, followed the state’s wishes and enrolled her five children in school in Erath, a rural town in coastal Louisiana, after Katrina only to flee before Hurricane Rita put the small farming town underwater.
Now, she said, she is home-schooling her fourth-, sixth-, eighth-, ninth- and 12th-grade children until her local school district reopens.
“Math’ll be hard,” she said, sighing. “It’s not just addition and subtraction — it’s everything.”
Home-schooling parents can be sent Louisiana’s curriculum, which outlines what students need to know at each grade level, Miss Casper said.
Learning how to become a home-schooling parent on the fly will not be easy, said Dianna Van Timmeren, a Baton Rouge mother who home-schools her children and is helping a family of evacuees make the transition.
“There’s tons of curriculum out there to choose from, and all kinds of help for parents who might feel wobbly about educating their children,” she said.