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Haiti earthquake may be the latest casualty for the new school yearExBulletin

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Desks, chairs, and school supplies can be seen throughout the Mission Evangélique Baptiste du Sud d’Haiti Picot, which was destroyed in a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Octavio Jones for NPR .

Switch Caption Octavio Jones for NPR

Desks, chairs, and school supplies can be seen throughout the Mission Evangélique Baptiste du Sud d’Haiti Picot, which was destroyed in a 7.2-magnitude earthquake.

Octavio Jones for NPR

MARCELINE, Haiti – Authorities in Haiti have postponed the start of school nationwide after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake last month destroyed schools and homes across the southern Haiti peninsula.

It is the latest unwanted disruption to education in Haiti, where education has been repeatedly interrupted over the past two years due to COVID-19, gang violence and kidnappings that have terrorized much of the country.

In earthquake-affected areas, school will start on October 4. In other parts of the country, the opening will be postponed by two weeks. The school year was originally scheduled to begin on September 6.

“For schools to open, we have a lot of work to do. We have to clear the rubble and build structures to accommodate the children,” Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Dr. Ariel Henry said in an announcement on Thursday. “Whether they are in [public] Schools, religious schools or private schools, all students in the South must go to school.”

The earthquake destroyed 173 schools and severely damaged more than 270 others, according to preliminary data from the country’s Ministry of Education, provided by the former education minister to NPR.

Even for those buildings that survived the earthquake, it is unlikely that many families facing destruction at home will have the money to pay school fees. At least 80% of Haitian schools are private.

Reverend Calixte Dorval at the remains of the Evangélique Baptiste du Sud d’Haiti Picot in Marseille, Haiti, which was destroyed in a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Octavio Jones for NPR .

Switch Caption Octavio Jones for NPR

Reverend Calixte Dorval at the remains of the Evangélique Baptiste du Sud d’Haiti Picot in Marseille, Haiti, which was destroyed in a 7.2-magnitude earthquake.

Octavio Jones for NPR

In the small town of Marseille, the school at Mission Evangélique Baptiste du Sud d’Haiti Picot, a local church, usually receives over 430 students every day of the week, from toddlers to teens.

“There is no way we can start on time,” said Reverend Calixte Dorval. “We will need temporary shelters. We need plywood. We will need nails. We will need roofs.”

The custody was beyond repair; The church has already removed most of the ruins. Only a small pile of debris, broken chairs and stuffed animals remained in place.

Nearby, the elementary school building’s walls have crumbled completely, causing the intact metal roof—recently reconstructed after being destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016—falling over the offices below.

The necessary repairs and reconstruction will take months, if not years. Meanwhile, Dorval said, the school will set up temporary shelters to be able to bring students back sooner.

“We are praying to God that we can return to normal activities in October,” he said. “We’re trying to save the school year, as much as such a thing is possible.”

Because of the earthquake on Saturday in the summer, classes were largely empty. Education officials, school staff and families alike believe the death toll of 2,200 could have been much higher had tectonic plates shifted on a weekday in September instead.

“Thank God it was not a school day, because if it was a school day, then we can say that the majority of us [died]Glaces Lewis, 28, is a teacher at the Éducatif de la Jeunesse du Monde center in Les Cayes, which has been destroyed.

“We don’t know what will happen because we are supported by Hope for Haiti,” she said, referring to the international aid group that helps fund the school. “They haven’t told us anything yet. We don’t know what to expect.”

A spokesperson for Hope for Haitian, reached for comment, said the group is still in the process of assessing the damage and estimating the funding needs of its 24 partner schools in the earthquake zone, a process they expect to complete over the weekend.

Even with a month’s delay, the challenges for schools and parents are significant. The federal government in Haiti struggles to provide public education even in the best of times, and funding for education has declined in recent years.

With only about 20% of schools in the country being publicly run, many parents must pay to send their children to private schools, supported primarily by churches and international organizations.

But even minimal tuition is a huge cost in a country where many people live on $1 or $2 a day; Tuition fees can take up to 40% of a family’s income at the best of times.

A man is seen working to salvage spikes from Mission Evangélique Baptiste du Sud d’Haiti Picot, which were destroyed in a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Octavio Jones for NPR .

Switch Caption Octavio Jones for NPR

A man is seen working to salvage spikes from Mission Evangélique Baptiste du Sud d’Haiti Picot, which were destroyed in a 7.2-magnitude earthquake.

Octavio Jones for NPR

The earthquake destroyed 50,000 homes and damaged another 77,000, according to Haitian officials, leaving many poor families with an agonizing decision: Should they use their meager resources to send their children to school, or rebuild their homes?

“[From] “From an academic point of view, we have to open schools,” said Nismi Manigat, who served as the country’s education minister from 2014 to 2016. “From an academic point of view, we have to open schools.” But in practice – in terms of social justice, in terms of inequality – if schools open, [only] The very wealthy, privileged, in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien will be able to go to school.”

Long-term recovery is likely to be uneven, Manigat said.

Public schools will get the most help from the federal government, while private schools affiliated with relatively well-resourced international organizations — such as foreign universities or the Catholic Church — will also get help.

What is less certain is the future of private schools that lack such foreign support, often in isolated rural areas.

Manigat hopes that schools in Haiti can be improved to the point where earthquakes and hurricanes do not disrupt classes for months at a time. This will require better funding for education and training of more teachers, he said.

“I think the Haitian elite … should show more leadership when it comes to better financing for schools,” he said. “Leaving 80% of school funding in the hands of poor parents is irresponsible.”

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