Sept. 14, 2005 12:00
I would like to talk a bit to the citizens of Lafayette Parish: our "old" citizens and our "new" citizens. As everyone knows, our school system has experienced an influx of new students because of the hurricane. We all know that there are new families in our city, and that means new students in our schools. Since those displaced by the storm began to arrive in our parish, we have registered more than 3,300 new students. With the help of the Child Development Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, we have been able to take a demographic snapshot, if you will, of these students. Clearly, the picture tells us one thing: they are much like us.

Of these new boys and girls, 47 percent are white, 38 percent are black, 4 percent are Asian, and 3 percent are Hispanic. About 11 percent of these students were identified by their parents as special education students, and this is about the same percentage as our existing population and that of the state.

To our "old" citizens, I would like to say this: These folks are just like us. They are just people. If the hurricane had taken a different track, it might be your family searching for a place to live, a job, a school. We are making every effort to assign our new students evenly across the parish. That means your child will, more likely than not, have some new classmates at his or her school. These children have suffered an unfathomable loss, and are facing an uncertain future. We can do something about that. We can welcome them into our schools and our community. We can let them know that, for now at least, they have a home. We can count ourselves as lucky and reach out to our new neighbors.

To our "new" citizens, I say: Welcome! We are glad you are here. We stand ready to add your children to our rolls. We are grateful to be able to offer you what we have. We know we are blessed, and we are happy to share.