By Jeff RosenthalSpecial to CSMS MagazineMonths after the Katrina disaster, the situation remains chaotic. Until schools reopen and houses are rebuilt, residents will not want to return to New Orleans, AFT member Gwendolyn Adams told Democratic members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce at a March 21 hearing in the city on the future of education in New Orleans. “Katrina destroyed so many lives and homes,” said Adams, a 25-year veteran teacher and member of the United Teachers of New Orleans, “but we cannot allow post-Katrina policies to destroy the hope and opportunity that public schools represent.” Adams and other educators and students who testified at the hearing urged the lawmakers to get more federal money to New Orleans to help rebuild and reopen schools, buy new equipment, rehire staff and cover healthcare costs for laid-off employees The hearing at the New Orleans Hilton was part of a two-day tour of the area led by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking Democrat. The lawmakers paid a visit to schools in St. Bernard Parish as well as Southern University in New Orleans. According to American Journal, Adams told them that many critics of the New Orleans school system “have never stepped foot in our schools” and started preaching “quick fixes over long-term reform and resources.” Just five non-charter public schools are currently open in New Orleans while schools in neighboring parishes are already functioning. “There’s no excuse why we’re not reopening more schools in New Orleans,” she said, adding that the school where she taught, Harney Elementary, suffered only minor damage. “We cannot truly bring New Orleans back to life until we bring her schools back to life,” Adams said. “My colleagues and I desperately want to help in this effort but cannot do so under the current circumstances.” She also testified about the “shameful” treatment of New Orleans school employees. In February, the district lay off the majority of the school system’s 7,500 teachers, including PSRPs and other employees. Adams said she learned of her dismissal by word of mouth and, until now, has not received an official termination letter. Many observers believe that one of the biggest hardships has been the lack of health coverage. Because of lack of jobs, most former employees simply cannot afford to pay for health insurance.Note: Jeff Rosenthal lives and works in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is a retired teacher. He wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine. Also see: Hurricane Katrina : http://www.csmsmagazine.org/news.php?pg=20051013I48
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