The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
September 8, 2005

Mrs. Bush's Remarks During a Visit with Families Affected by Hurricane Katrina
Greenbrook Elementary School
Southaven, Mississippi

photos  Photos

3:51 P.M. CDT

MRS. BUSH: Margaret -- Secretary Spellings and I have been traveling today. I had a back to school event on my calendar before the hurricane. I was going to Des Moines, Iowa, which is where I went this morning for a great event. And of course, those children in Des Moines, Iowa, were very concerned about the children here. And they sent a little box of one classroom's worth of supplies to give to the children here with their love.

Laura Bush meets Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005 with families from New Orleans, displaced last week as a result of Hurricane Katrina, at the Greenbrook Elementary School in DeSoto County, Miss. Greenbrook Elementary School has enrolled the most displaced students among the DeSoto County schools in Mississippi.  White House photo by Krisanne Johnson Des Moines actually has about -- I think they said around a dozen who have come up from the Gulf Coast who are in school there now, not at the school that I happened to visit, but at other schools in the Des Moines School District.

So really, around the country, in almost every state, children who have been displaced because of Hurricane Katrina are starting school this week. It's really important for parents to make sure their children go to school. It's important for their children to have a normal life, to have the structure and the routine of going to school, and especially since many children have suffered really -- have seen and suffered a lot of really terrible things. So it's important to have the safe structure that a school gives you.

So I want to thank all these parents. I want to thank them for putting their children in school here and for letting their children have a normal life.

Each day more and more things happen to know that the Gulf Coast and New Orleans are going to return, that things will be rebuilt, that people will be able to go on with their lives as they were at some point.

But I want to thank all the people who have worked on that, specifically the school districts around the country that are taking in students all over the country. Some cities, as you know, are taking in a large number of students, incorporating them into their school districts. And I want to thank the people here in this school district, in Sunnyvale, for taking in students, and then the others that are doing it around the country.

And I also want to encourage anybody who was affected by Hurricane Katrina to make sure their children are in school, that they're safe in school, and that they have all the support that they need to weather this time that's going to be difficult for them.

Any questions?

Q How did you pick out DeSoto County, to come to this school district?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I wanted to come here because this is a school district that has kids in it from Mississippi and from the New Orleans area that couldn't go to school in their home school districts. I wanted -- I'm going to later visit, as you know, a shelter that's here. I wanted to visit another shelter. I've visited several so far. All of them have been organized and run very, very well for the benefit of the people who are having to be sheltered, who are choosing that. So that's why I really picked DeSoto County to come to.

Laura Bush embraces a child Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005 of one of the families from New Orleans, displaced last week as a result of Hurricane Katrina, during a meeting at the Greenbrook Elementary School in DeSoto County, Miss. Greenbrook Elementary School has enrolled the most displaced students among the DeSoto County schools in Mississippi.  White House photo by Krisanne Johnson Q How will the government help these districts in the long-term, taking all these --

MRS. BUSH: That's a very good question for Secretary Spellings. (Laughter.) But the government will. I happened to sit in on a meeting with the President and Secretary Spellings, talking about the ways to get money right away to school districts that have a larger population because of the hurricane.

SECRETARY SPELLINGS: Another reason we came here is because this is a great school district with a great superintendent, and they met all their AYP targets down here. (Laughter.) And so I -- (applause) - before I answer that question.

But we're helping in a number of ways. Resources, the President asked me to put together a plan so that we can ask for adequate compensation for the affected school districts, those who are taking in students as well as those who have been devastated. And I expect to get that to the Congress and to him, obviously, very shortly.

In the short run, we're allowing lots of flexibility on resources, letting people move funds around and do things. They're waiving various aspects of the law and so forth. We're providing flexibility for various provisions of No Child Left Behind so that people can get about their business as quickly as possible.

And then we're trying to engage the education community so that we can -- we've launched a website called , "Hurricane help for schools," where we're matching people in the education community and around the country with the needs of schools.

So just a number of things. Resources will be forthcoming. We know they're needed, and we can't wait to get them here.

Q -- families that you're giving -- (inaudible) -- what do you want them to know? What's the message you're trying to send to them?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I want them to know that they're doing really the right thing by putting their children in school. A lot of families who are displaced are not sure they're going to stay where they are for very long or how long they're going to be where they are. But it's really important to go ahead and put your children in school, even if you move them in a few weeks because you decide to make other plans or move to another site or move to get an apartment or whatever -- however it works out.

Laura Bush and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings meet newborn Iriella Johnson and her mother Irene Johnson, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005, one of the many families displaced from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, during a visit to the Goodman Oaks Church of Christ in Southaven, Miss. The Goodman Oaks Church of Christ was one of the first shelters established in Mississippi when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005.  White House photo by Krisanne Johnson But I want families to know how important it is to make sure their children are taken care of. A lot of children will suffer, they'll be afraid, they'll be afraid to leave their parents. There are probably parents who are afraid to let their children leave them. And it's really important to try to get your child, as soon as possible, into as normal a situation as you can. And that includes what all of us know children need, which is a caring adult with them, water, food, sleep. Children need to be able to go to bed early and not be so fatigued they have a hard time controlling their emotions, which they're likely to do anyway under such circumstances.

Q Is there one child or one story you've heard that is sticking with you?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I've heard a lot of stories in shelters, and all of them are stories that make me know how important school is in the life of a child. One mother told me -- I told Secretary Spellings this earlier; I think this was when I was in Lafayette -- and she was with her little boy, and she said, you know, he was going to go off to his first year in preschool, his first time in school, and he was so excited about it. And so not only was their life upended because of the hurricane and the flood, but also his plans and his -- what he expected to go to school was.

And then I told this story before in another town, but my assistant's dad is a football coach at a big football powerhouse school in Texas, and they got their first student earlier in the week from Louisiana. They said sort of a thin, small high school student, and two great big football players stood on either side of him and took him to his class and said, "You're in the right school," and met him after his class to take him to his next one.

And I know that's what will happen across the United States as children go into school districts, new schools for them, new school districts for them. The districts will be very welcoming, the children will be very welcoming, and it's a real learning experience for all children to have this opportunity to get to meet people from another part of the country, to get to figure out what ways they can help them. And it's a real American experience, I think.

Q Mrs. Bush, how do you feel the federal government has responded to Hurricane Katrina just across the board?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think across the board very, very well. That's what I would say. I think we've seen a lot of the same footage over and over that isn't necessarily representative of what really happened in both -- in a lot of ways. And we know now that New Orleans is pretty much totally evacuated. There was a huge number of people who were rescued, especially considering that a lot of people were rescued one at a time by helicopter.

Shelters have set up around the country very, very well. You read every day anecdotal stories in the papers about families who are so -- their hearts are so warmed by the response of the people who come to the shelter, to volunteer there, to play with their babies so they can get some sleep, or to help them in whatever way they can.

This was a huge storm, and it was unbelievable devastating storm, the largest, probably, our country has ever seen. And when you consider that, and you consider the numbers of communities, particularly in this state that were literally wiped out, then you have to know that -- I think overall, it was a very good response.

END 4:02 P.M. CDT

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