School District Awaits Children of Polygamist Sect
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And with those children in state custody, schools in Texas are scrambling to figure how to accommodate them.
The children were home-schooled at the compound where they used to live and raised completely cut off from the outside world. The Alvin School District outside Houston expects to be admitting some of the children who've been taken to the shelter called Kidz Harbor. Denise Babb is in charge of figuring out what the Alvin School should do.
Ms. DENISE BABB (Director of Accelerated Programs, Alvin School District): It's a very sensitive issue and we just didn't want to immediately thrust them into a public school setting when they have not at all been used to that all. It's a totally different world they're from.
BLOCK: What have you heard? What's your understanding about that totally different world, as you described it, that the kids are coming from?
Ms. BABB: Well, I've not talked to CPS personally...
BLOCK: CPS is Child Protective Services.
Ms. BABB: Yes, the Child Protective Services. But Kidz Harbor has contacted us. Some of the things they had to do to prepare for these students to enter their facility were to remove all the books from the room - from the rooms. They couldn't have any children's book or books in the rooms. They couldn't have the color red in the room. They had to be aware that these students, these children, may or may not talk to them. So given that, it made me think, okay, if we go in there and try to assess where they are, basically we have nothing. We don't know what kind of education they have received. We don't know their ages. There's a lot of unknown factors there.
BLOCK: You mentioned a few things there. What would the restriction be on the color red?
Ms. BABB: My understanding - and I've heard this ever since we were to receive these students - that the color red signifies something. Now, this is what I've heard and it's just hearsay, that the color red for them really refers to Jesus Christ coming again, and only Christ would be wearing the color of red when he came back. So they don't wear the color red and they don't like to see the color red.
BLOCK: They had to remove all books. Why is that?
Ms. BABB: My understanding is that they don't have books at their compound, that they don't have any library books or books that most kids are used to, that they are not allowed to have them based on their religious beliefs.
BLOCK: Do you know if the kids have been taught to read?
Ms. BABB: I don't know that.
BLOCK: Well, at some point you are going to be putting a position of having to assess where these kids are with learning.
Ms. BABB: Right.
BLOCK: You're also hearing they may not talk to you.
Ms. BABB: Right.
BLOCK: How are you possibly going to evaluate where they are?
Ms. BABB: Right. We really talked about that a lot lately. We're going to have to - I feel like build a sense of trust with these children. And to do that may take time, maybe by playing games. I know there's something called play therapy out there that we could go out and try to assess their needs and try to build a communication that will allow them to test these students. So there's still a lot of factors out there we just do not know.
BLOCK: Can you imagine that these kids could be put into the public school system in Texas?
Ms. BABB: Yes, it's a possibility. I'm hoping that, you know, the next few months will play out and they'll be - they'll become more adjusted to our way of life, and I'm hoping that time will help with that. We're going to have to constantly work with these students and counsel with these students. And we've been told by the state they're going to provide us resources in the way of counseling, but it's going to take a lot of time.
BLOCK: I suppose the other side of this will be that if these kids are ultimately merged into the school system, you have to be thinking about the other kids in that system. And what would you tell the others kids about how to treat the kids coming in?
Ms. BABB: Oh, you know, we would hope they would be considerate and really mindful, and I think our kids are that way. I think they're - not to say there's not out there that would be harmful and hateful, but I think for the most part Alvin is a very friendly community. We're very neighborly to each other. I think the kids will respect them, and I think they will do a good of it.
BLOCK: Well, Denise Babb, best of luck to you. Thanks so much.
Ms. BABB: You're welcome.
BLOCK: Denise Babb is the director of Accelerated Programs for the Alvin School District. She spoke with us from member station KUSH in Houston.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.