Madden Pushes for Evacuee Reform

City of Austin opposes bill proposing closing schools when they are serving as an emergency shelter

Rep. Madden: Education and shelter could become either/or in a disaster
Rep. Madden: Education and shelter could become either/or in a disaster

Talking to Austin ISD during the Hurricane Ike evacuation, their prime concern was making sure the district provided shelter space while not interrupting the education of their students. So it's not surprise that districts are pushing back against House Bill 727. This measure would "close a school campus used as an emergency evacuation shelter while the campus houses evacuees."

That's exactly the opposite of what happens at the moment. AISD Intergovernmental Relations Director Christy Rome told Newsdesk the district was concerned that the proposals don't reflect the successes the district had shown of running temporary emergency shelters within its schools without sending students home. "We feel that we can do both," she said.

City of Austin Homeland Security and Emergency Management Assistant Director Scott Swearengin echoed that to the House Public Education Committee yesterday. Austin is geared up to take 25,000 evacuees, he said, so the district has arguably the most "experience of using schools [as shelters] in the state of Texas." If the rules were changed, he said, either schools would refuse to become shelters or parents would have to take time off to look after their kids.

Leaving the schools open and using specific sections of the buildings as shelters, he said, worked and had been proven to be safe. "We knew where the students were, we knew where the evacuees were," he said.

Bill author Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said he was concerned about ensuring that certain classes of convicted criminals weren't allowed onto campuses. Rome said that, when she spoke to his staff, they said he was coming at it from a corrections background, not an education approach. But testimony from Round Rock police suggested that this was a non-argument. Officer Larry Hayes, who teaches criminal justice at Round Rock ISD as well as having worked in Round Rock for the last couple of evacuations, said, "I cannot recall any interaction between an evacuee and a student on our campus."

Rome remained optimistic that Madden will be responsive to rebuilding the bill to included sufficient exemptions to still allow districts to open their doors in emergencies.

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Hurricane Ike, City Services, Texas House of Representatives, Homeland Security, 81st Legislature, Jerry Madden, House Bill 727, HB727

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