The academic year got off to a wet start at Vermont Law School, which is located in an area hit hard by the floods caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

Classes began on Aug. 31 — two days later than planned due to telephone and Internet outages, as well as parking lot flooding and building damage. Despite those setbacks, students and faculty members have rallied to assist Vermont residents in the aftermath of the devastating storm.

The law school’s land use clinic and its South Royalton, Vt., legal clinic have teamed up to assist residents in filling out applications for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Students are on hand daily in the school’s law library to help people complete emergency paperwork.

The law school has designated two staff members to work full time on relief efforts and is allowing staff members to receive full pay while volunteering.

“Vermont Law School is determined to do whatever it can to help in our local community and across the region,” said Dean Jeff Shields.

More than 200 students have gotten involved in the recovery effort, said 3L Meredith Crafton, who lives four miles from the school’s South Royalton campus but was briefly cut off from the town by flooding.

“A lot of homes in town were filled with mud or completely flooded out,” she said. “The community members and law school students have been organizing to clean mud out of basements and move out drywall. We’re just trying to get rid of everything the water had touched.”

Janssen Willhoit, a 2L, spent the past week setting up and helping to staff a temporary shelter in the dormitory of a local technical college. The National Guard has been rescuing residents stranded in communities cut off by flooding and dropping them off at the local hospital. There was no place for them to stay after that, so the temporary shelter was established.

In addition to spending nights at the shelter and attending class, Willhoit has been using his pickup truck to deliver beds to residents whose furniture was destroyed. “Everyone here has really stepped up to the plate,” he said.

Vermont Law School has loosened its class attendance requirements to allow student who are volunteering in the recovery to make up assignments later.

Karen Sloan can be contacted at