By Taylor Rexrode
Less than a week after the disastrous fertilizer plant explosion, West students returned to school Monday to finish out the year.
Pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students returned to West Elementary School, a little over a mile away from the West Fertilizer Co. plant that caught fire and exploded Wednesday night.
The explosion destroyed West Intermediate School and left the middle and high schools unusable. But, with help from volunteers, students can now finish the year at Connally ISD, about 15 miles from West. Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton of the Waco Police Department echoed the spirit of the surrounding communities who wish to bring West back to normalcy.
“There has been such a tremendous outpouring of support, of people wanting to do whatever they can,” Swanton said. “We will continue to take care of them in their time of recovery.”
Grades nine through 12 will spend the rest of the year at Connally Intermediate School, which has been vacant for two years. Seventh-and eighth-grade West students will use two wings of Connally High School for the rest of the semester. Wesley Holt, chief human resource officer and public information officer for Connally ISD, said several volunteers helped prepare the schools over the weekend so that West students would feel welcome.
“The building was painted inside,” Holt said. “The desks were brought from a neighboring school district and Baylor students came and volunteered to make the building ready. There are welcome signs everywhere and there are banners in the hallways for them.”
Holt said Connally students and faculty were asked to wear red Monday in honor of West’s school colors. Trained counselors and crisis management counselors from the district were placed in each classroom for students still coping with the emotional impact of Wednesday’s explosion. According to the West ISD website, these counselors will be available “for as many days as we need them.”
Commissioner of Education Michael L. Williams issued a statement Monday about the volunteers and citizens who made Monday’s school openings possible.
“I commend the hard work of administrators, educators and staff at the West Independent School District in their effort to restart school today,” Williams said. “The Texas Education Agency continues to stay in contact with Superintendent Marty Crawford to assure they have the support needed to provide for the educational needs of West ISD students through the end of the school year. That goal has been made easier thanks to the outpouring of assistance from school districts across the area and around the state. It is a testament to the people of West and to our state’s spirit of helping one another.”
West teachers will instruct all their regular classes and school supplies have been provided for every student through donations. Elementary school hours are from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and middle and high school students attend class from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. At the end of the school day, students ride buses to Greg May Chevrolet in West, the pick-up and drop-off point for Connally schools.
The Texas Education Agency has given West ISD flexibility on when or if they will administer state standardized tests this year.
West ISD could not be contacted at the time of publication. West ISD has requested that no additional school supplies be sent to West due to limited storage space. Instead, those that wish to donate may send monetary donations to Point West Bank and Trust or State National Bank in West.