Half a million students still out of school because of Ike

Since Hurricane Ike knocked out power at their elementary school two weeks ago, Jakin and Jared Cordova have been playing a lot of video games.

For the 9- and 6-year-old brothers, it's awesome. For their mother, not so much.

“We try to give them stuff to do reading-wise, do outside stuff, make them go to the park,” a frustrated Natalie Cordova said. “They're still just playing video games a lot.”

Like more than half a million children in the nation's fourth-largest city and on the Texas Gulf Coast, the boys have been out of school since the Sept. 13 storm brought life to a standstill.

“As a working parent, I can't provide what they need, the same stimulation they get at school,” said the boys' mother, a Houston chiropractor.

About 20 percent of schools in Houston – the biggest school district in Texas – and all of the Galveston schools remained closed Friday.

In a state whose passion for high school football was exemplified by “Friday Night Lights,” hundreds of games have been canceled as a result of hurricane damage, shortening the season for many teams.

Most Houston schools will reopen Monday. Officials have been drying soggy carpets and wall maps and airing out moldy library books. Fallen trees are being removed and the fences around schoolyards repaired.

While a few Galveston schools will open next week, many are serving as shelters for people made homeless by the storm, while others are too damaged to use any time soon.

Children are being allowed to enroll in other districts around the state, far from their old homes and friends.

Once school is back in session, educators will have another problem: how to make up for lost class time. Administrators are considering extending school hours or holding classes on holidays or staff training days.

Debbie Ratcliffe of the state education department said there is a small possibility that some schools could be closed for a month or more.

Under Texas law, children must be enrolled in school. But Ratcliffe said the state will go easy on enforcing the truancy laws and consider each family's situation.

“We're telling people that if the school they previously attended will reopen soon, just wait and go back home,” she said. But if there is no home to go to, or the school will be closed indefinitely, the children should be enrolled somewhere else, she said.