Texas schools already challenged by the pandemic are now experiencing a historically brutal winter. Lack of power and communication, broken water pipes, mold concerns, and other weather-related damage put more obstacles in place for students and families that rely on schools for shelter and food.
As Texas faced record-low temperatures this February and snow and ice made roads impassable, the state’s electric grid operator lost control of the power supply, leaving millions without access to electricity. As the blackouts extended from hours to days, top state lawmakers called for investigations into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and Texans demanded accountability for the disaster.
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When icy temperatures knocked out Neshia Inmon’s electricity for more than two days, she sent her 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son to a family member’s house while she stayed home.
Inmon, who lives in East Texas, encouraged her children, learning through the Texas Virtual School Network this year, to keep up with their schoolwork when cell service or internet access permitted. Throughout the chaos and instability of the past year, Inmon has done as much as possible to prioritize her children’s education.
She is calm when discussing the details of all the unexpected challenges the pandemic has thrown at her: Over the last year, she was fired from one retail job, had to quit another to help her kids with online school, received eviction notices almost every month, and isn’t sure whether her appeal for unemployment benefits will go through. As she waits for the weather to clear up, she is rationing a limited supply of food and making sure her children get to eat.
“I can’t even imagine about the people who are not as strong who got kids. That’s when it hurts the most: When you have somebody who you have to take care of,” she said.
The winter storm delivered another blow for parents, teachers and students already struggling to get through this academic year, as COVID-19 has destabilized the lives of many Texans. Already students were failing multiple classes learning virtually, feeling increasingly anxious and depressed, and worrying about their loved ones. Now, some families still don’t have power or water and some schools, given the damage to facilities, are unsure when they are going to be able to take students back in person.