SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today ordered Illinois public schools to waive residency requirements and enroll any child displaced by Hurricane Katrina who relocates to live with family, friends or in a shelter in Illinois. Hundreds of thousands of children in the Gulf States were displaced by the devastating storm and many schools may not re-open for months, if not the entire school year.
“Hurricane Katrina forced hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes and communities. So much about their lives changed overnight. Today, I’m opening our doors for the youngest victims of Hurricane Katrina. These children deserve to go to school, where they can learn and just be kids,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “It will take months and maybe years for their communities in the Gulf States to rebuild. And until they do, if they need us, we will provide a quality education for them in Illinois.”
Louisiana officials estimate Hurricane Katrina forced as many as 150,000 school children away from their homes. Mississippi officials estimate 35,000 school children were displaced.
Children, whether traveling alone or with their families, will be considered homeless for enrollment purposes and will be enrolled immediately by local school districts in Illinois. The Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health will also temporarily waive immunization requirements for these children to allow for their immediate enrollment in school. Illinois has more than 4,000 K-12 public schools.
This is the latest in Illinois’ efforts to assist the Gulf States in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. On Wednesday, Gov. Blagojevich authorized the Illinois National Guard to travel to Louisiana to assist in Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts. The Illinois National Guard will send up to fifty military vehicles and 300 soldiers to the devastated state. The soldiers are assembling in Springfield today and will leave for Louisiana Friday morning. On Tuesday, the Governor authorized the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team to travel to Louisiana to assist as well.
The Illinois National Guard will send large military cargo trucks to Louisiana that can drive through several feet of water to transport supplies and cleanup debris, among other tasks. Up to 210 members of the Illinois National Guard 3637th Maintenance Company in Springfield, along with drivers and a command and control element, will travel to Louisiana to help keep recovery equipment in working order and provide other recovery support.
The Illinois Emergency Medical Team consists of ten highly trained doctors and specialists with clinical experience and field experience who can quickly assist in medical disasters, including setting up on site field hospitals.
In addition, the Illinois Department of Corrections is sending supplies including blankets and uniforms to prisons in Louisiana.
Yesterday, the Governor announced that Illinois’ Community College system will accept any student from Illinois who attends college in the Gulf States and needs somewhere to continue their education.
The state of Louisiana made the request to Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) officials through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). The compact, which includes 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, is a mutual aid agreement and partnership that facilitates states assisting other states during emergencies.