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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

PTSD, Katrina

Cheryl Gerber for The New York Times
Two of the officers assigned to John McDonogh
High in New Orleans checking students in a hallway.
Some students bristle at the security.

After the Storm, Students Left Alone and Angry
Published: November 1, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 31 —John McDonogh High School has at least 25 security guards, at the entrance, up the stairs and outside classes. The school has a metal detector, four police officers and four police cruisers on the sidewalk.

In the last six weeks, students at McDonogh, the largest functioning high school here, have assaulted guards, a teacher and a police officer. A guard and a teacher were beaten so badly that they were hospitalized.

The surge hints at a far-reaching phenomenon after Hurricane Katrina, educators here say. Teenagers in the city are living alone or with older siblings or relatives, separated by hundreds of miles from their displaced parents. Dozens of McDonogh students fend largely for themselves, school officials say.

“They are here on their own,” Wanda Daliet, a science teacher, said. “They are raising themselves. And they are angry.”

The principal, Donald Jackson, estimated that up to a fifth of the 775 students live without parents.

“Basically, they are raising themselves, because there is no authority figure in the home,” Mr. Jackson said. “If I call for a parent because I’m having an issue, I may be getting an aunt, who may be at the oldest 20, 21. What type of governance, what type of structure is in the home, if this is the living conditions?”

In a second-floor cosmetology class, two of the six girls said their parents were elsewhere.

“I don’t get to talk to her as much as I want,” one girl, Tiffany Mansion, 16, said as she looked down.

Her mother is in Little Rock, Ark.

In the lunchroom, a shy 18-year-old who was asked whom he went home to in the evenings, said: “Nobody. Myself.”

His parents are in Baton Rouge.

Mr. Jackson said many parents whom he had spoken to were in Baton Rouge, Houston or elsewhere. “That’s the question that’s buzzing in everybody’s heads,” the McDonogh curriculum coordinator, Toyia Washington Kendrick, said. “How could you leave your kids here, that are school-age kids, unattended?”

The answer is as various as the fragmented social structure, which the hurricane a year ago made even more complicated. Some students describe families barely functional even before the storm. Others say pressing economic necessity has kept parents away.

Rachelle Harrell was living in Houston, working as a medical assistant and trying to pay off a $1,300 electricity bill in New Orleans. But she yielded to her son Justin and his cousin Kiante, both 16, and sent them back to New Orleans on a Greyhound bus while she stayed in Texas.

The decision anguished Ms. Harrell, 36, even though Justin was being picked on in Houston and yearned to return to McDonogh. Justin; his sister, Eboni Gay, 18; and Kiante set up housekeeping in Ms. Harrell’s old house in the Algiers neighborhood. A monthly check from his mother and a job at a fast-food restaurant helped make ends meet.

Ms. Harrell anticipated the inevitable question.

“ ‘Why are your children at home, and you’re in Texas?’ ” she asked. “Well, I’m trying to get home. It’s just crazy. But my kids know my situation. When school started, I had to work a couple of more weeks, because I had that light bill.

“It’s like, ‘Oh my God, is everything O.K.?’ I couldn’t even sleep at night. O.K. Lord, if anything happens, I’m going to be seen as such a bad mama, and I’m a hundred miles from home.”

Last week, she left her job in Houston and returned to New Orleans — for good.

And with no mental health care, which they need as desperately as people returning from the sandbox.

posted by Steve @ 12:45:00 AM

12:45:00 AM

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