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Federal leaders pledge relaxed rules for schools

WASHINGTON -- The schools devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and those trying to help them, will be given leeway in complying with a federal law that aims to raise education standards.

US education leaders said yesterday that they will consider broad requests for relief from states in the overwhelmed Gulf Coast, meaning schools could get significantly more time to raise yearly test scores or to ensure that all their teachers meet federal qualifications.

''You can be assured that the red tape will be put in the drawer," the deputy education secretary, Ray Simon, said after taking part in a White House meeting about hurricane response.

An estimated hundreds of thousands of displaced students will attend school in a different district, if not a different state, as the school year begins. Education officials also pledged to relax rules on college aid, including timelines for students to pay their loans.

As the storm's fallout became clearer, officials in schools and colleges in states such as Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, Virginia, and Tennessee pledged to enroll displaced students.

''Children are being dislocated, literally," Simon said. ''They're homeless. They're traveling hundreds of miles to find temporary homes, which means they will also have to travel several hundred miles to find schools."

In response, the Education Department told school chiefs in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas that they could expect fast relief. State leaders are still figuring out what kind of help they will seek, but they are expected to jump on the department's offer to consider waivers under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Henry Johnson, the assistant secretary over elementary and secondary education, is a former state school superintendent in Mississippi. He said that in five or six coastal counties in that state, half the schools have been leveled. The other half, he said, are so damaged that it is unclear whether they can be used this year.

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