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Local Schools and Community College Leaders Attend “After the Storm” Symposium to Discuss Critical Issues Related to Hurricane Harvey Recovery Efforts
Houston, TX (September 8, 2017)—More than 250 Houston-area school officials attended the “After the Storm: Critical Issues Facing Schools and Community Colleges after Hurricane Harvey,” on Friday, September 8, 2017, which was hosted by Region 4 Education Service Center and facilitated by Thompson and Horton LLP. The event featured many key governmental leaders from the federal, state, and local entities, including Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM)/Texas Department of Public Safety, Harris County of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, City of Houston Mayor’s Office, and Houston METRO.
During the opening remarks, Texas’ education commissioner Mike Morath stated that the TEA is going to “cut through as much red tape as possible” to get school systems back on track after devastating floods from Hurricane Harvey. Acknowledging educators’ actions during Hurricane Harvey, Morath added, “I have heard so many stories of heroism, of valor, of selflessness, people rescuing others even while their own property is being destroyed. I am honored to support you in any way I can.”
Morath opened the general session at the symposium, which was designed to provide critical information and discussion regarding issues facing schools and community colleges after Hurricane Harvey.
“With the help of disaster agencies, including FEMA and TDEM, the much-needed financial help for damaged schools will come through despite the paperwork,” Morath said, “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been relentless at ensuring rapid support for schools.”
Attorney David Thompson remarked that the cooperation between national, state, and regional entities in recent days has helped immensely during a difficult time, as are school officials sharing lessons learned from previous hurricane disasters, including Katrina, Ike, and Rita.
Locally, Juliet Stipeche, director of the Mayor’s Office of Education for the City of Houston, shared Mayor Sylvester Turner’s commitment of support to area schools. Additionally, Eddie Miranda, METRO vice president of government affairs, announced that through the month of September, students and their accompanying parents/guardians may ride Houston METRO for free with a student ID.
Thompson told the group of superintendents and Region 4 education officials that schools have been critical to helping local communities through the Harvey aftermath. And he said Region 4 “really was the single best source in the last week and will continue to be the source for great, current, accurate information” for school administrators.
Morath also commended Region 4, saying: “Dr. (Pam) Wells at the service center, in fact, the entire service center staff, have been amazingly effective agents of yours serving as a conduit of information to us in Austin.”
Sherri Copeland, the TDEM section administrator whose office acts a liaison between hard-hit schools and FEMA, said of the storm aftermath: “This is personal,” explaining her own daughter’s school had suffered major damage. Copeland’s Houston field office covers 35 counties, employs a handful of coordinators and support staff, but is adding staff to handle the extra cases.
Breakout sessions, led by Thompson & Horton LLC attorneys, Copeland, and other experts covered topics including accountability, serving displaced/homeless students, special education services, child nutrition, FEMA and insurance claims, procurement, audit- and payroll-related issues, displaced employees, and more.

Governmental Entities and Organizations in Attendance

Texas Education Agency
Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education
Mark Baxter, Policy and Planning, Office of Deputy Commissioner of Operations
Candace Stoltz, Director, School Safety, Discipline and Emergency Management

Thompson and Horton LLP
David Thompson, Founding Partner
Janet Horton, Founding Partner
Chris Borreca, Partner
Chris Gilbert, Partner
Sandy Hellums–Gomez, Partner
John Hopkins, Partner
Arturo Michel, Partner
Merri Schneider-Vogel, Partner
Jessica Witte, Associate
Ben Wells, Associate

Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
Ammy Gierzak, Homeland Security Planner

City of Houston Mayor’s Office
Juliet Stipeche, Director, Mayor’s Office of Education

Texas Division of Emergency Management/Texas Department of Public Safety
Sherri Copeland, Section Administrator for Recovery and Mitigation
Chris Broussard, Grant Administrator for Recovery

Department of Homeland Security
Chris Walsh, Infrastructure Branch Director for Response, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Houston METRO
Eddie Miranda, Vice President, Government Affairs

About Region 4 Education Service Center
Region 4 Education Service Center (Region 4), located in Houston, is one of 20 service centers established by the Texas Legislature in 1967. The purposes of the service centers, as presented in legislation, are to assist school districts in improving student performance, to enable school districts to operate more efficiently and economically, and to implement initiatives assigned by the Legislature or Commissioner of Education. The core purpose of Region 4 is to provide excellence in service for children.
Encompassing seven counties in the upper Texas Gulf Coast area, Region 4 serves 49 independent school districts and 36 open-enrollment charter schools. As the largest service center in Texas, Region 4 serves an education community of more than 1.2 million students, more than 95,000 professional educators, and 1,500 campuses.

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