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Surviving Katrina, child finds more horrors at new school


Zuri Franklin and her family spent three hellish days on their rooftop after Hurricane Katrina sent floodwaters crashing through their New Orleans neighborhood.

She had no idea the hardship would continue in her new 5th-grade classroom in Baton Rouge.

Zuri, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 5, wasn't getting the special education services her school was required to provide under federal law.

To make matters worse, she was teased, taunted and assaulted by students at her new school. One teacher even told Zuri and her mother that she wasn't wanted at the school.

"From day one, they treated us bad," said Bernadette Washington, Zuri's mother.

Zuri's mother eventually contacted the SPLC. After a tumultuous couple of years and numerous meetings with school officials, the SPLC got Zuri the services she needs.

Zuri's case became part of a class action complaint filed against the East Baton Rouge school district. A settlement in the case promises to dramatically reform the way East Baton Rouge schools treat hundreds of other children who need these special services.

"Zuri has been in so much transition — she's on her third school in Baton Rouge — that it's been very difficult to get her settled," said SPLC attorney Eden Heilman. "But now she has a good support team in place to help her."

Heilman even noted that Zuri, who is now 12, has shared a class with several children from New Orleans who can relate to her Hurricane Katrina experience because they were also uprooted from their homes by the storm.