The Recovery Process: How Houston’s School District Plans on Moving Forward

Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc throughout the Houston School District – the largest public school district in Texas and the seventh-largest in the U.S. – forcing schools to close and disrupting the lives of thousands of students, teachers, and education officials.

As of September 1st, district officials reported that each of the 200 school-related facilities they inspected after the disaster sustained damage from the hurricane, which was later downgraded to a tropical storm. It’s also expected that an additional 100 facilities will likely face similar problems, but have been inaccessible due to flooding, mold, or other circumstance.

Schools in other Houston-area districts have also suffered damage from the hurricane; but if Hurricane Katrina (which struck the Gulf Coast in 2005) is any sign, the worst of Harvey’s effects on education is yet to come. Hurricane Katrina, for instance, displaced more than 370,000 students in Mississippi and Louisiana, creating the lost generation of students who were forced to move from their homes and local schools. This means that children who frequently move or who live in poor circumstances (such as communities that’s been hit by a natural disaster) have a higher chance of dropping out of school compared to those who don’t. Needless to say, this is a big deal. Especially since this can lead to children developing dysplasia or aphasia, a problem that causes language learning disabilities according to the University of Cincinnati.

That being said, since Katrina hit Mississippi and Louisiana, both states’ academic achievements were lower, the dropout rates increased, and residents struggled with unemployment even a decade after the storm swept through the Gulf.

The school district, along with the school officials in Houston (who took in more Katrina evacuees than any other city) has begun leaning on their research, experiences, and improved technology that came out of Katrina to help implement plans to reduce Hurricane Harvey’s worst possible consequence for young children — and to prevent the storm from crippling students education for generations to come.

How does Houston’s school district plan on helping children?

When it comes to a child’s health, education is extremely important. This is why the Houston school district has agreed to provide every student with three meals a day during the upcoming school year, an expansion of an already existing program. In doing so, the district hopes to keep energized, focused, and ready to learn.

The district has also helped organized food and clothing drives with neighboring school districts. When students and teachers return to school this year, counselors will be there waiting for them (if needed). Houston’s district also plans on using technology to identify and track displaced and homeless students, a pivotal step in implementing the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina.

The problem is, however, Houston can’t successfully diminish Harvey’s worst educational impacts on its own. The school district has already faced budget cuts and potential other funding shortages. Researchers who studied the aftermath of Katrina say an influx of money was necessary to hire staff and implement full recovery programs for displaced students who might need months of academic and emotional support.

The Need of Education for Children 

For the vast majority of students, returning to school expecting normalcy after a powerful hurricane won’t be enough for a successful recovery. However, returning to school and receiving aid from counselors can help tremendously. A year after Hurricane Andrew plowed through Florida in 1992, for example, nearly 80 percent of students had recovered from the psychological trauma they experienced due to the storm with help from counselors.

The school district, along with the school officials in Houston (who took in more Katrina evacuees than any other city) has begun leaning on their research, experiences, and improved technology that came out of Katrina to help implement plans to reduce Hurricane Harvey’s worst possible consequence for young children.

For some students, though, recovery will take a lot longer — and that’s where Houston and other affected districts need to try and avoid the biggest post-Katrina mistakes.

A year after Katrina hit, affected students missed more days of schools and had lower rates of achievement than they did before the hurricane. On the bright side, Louisiana's rates of suspension and discipline for misconduct also fell, suggesting that education officials were more understanding and lenient than they typically had been.

Years after Hurricane Katrina, rates of suspension for displaced students had skyrocketed beyond their pre-storm levels, and Mississippi’s Katrina kids were twice as likely to leave school, never to return. Houston, along with other neighboring districts will need to do their best to maintain some sort of support group around their kids for multiple years.

The most vulnerable students — which includes kids from poorer families and children with diverse ethnicities — are also more likely to suffer from the hurricane. Harvey has already ruined those neighborhoods and demographics of Houston’s public schools. The fact that 62 percent of their students were Hispanic or Latino and 24 percent were African American, could result in a repeat of Katrina if not taken seriously.

How can the federal government help during a time of need? 

The state of Texas doesn’t have any near-term plans to provide extra money to help Houston and other school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey. That leaves the government officials. After Katrina, Congress granted $880 million in federal funding to help school districts that took displaced students, intended for districts to hire staff and provide full support to students in need.

As part of the package, Congress approved each district $1,500 per displaced student, allowing districts to provide basic education services, reopen schools, and hire temporary staff members. Many school districts, however, reported that the funding fell short of what they needed, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The good news is that Hurricane Katrina led to a multitude of new information about what does and doesn’t help schools recover after a major storm. The main challenge now is applying the lessons learned from Katrina to Harvey.

How you can help the victims.

The American Red Cross said they depend on financial donations to help provide immediate relief. They have already set up ways to donate to victims. You can also visit their site, or text the word “HARVEY” to 90999 to make a small donation.

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Thanks for the read! Did I miss anything important? Are there any other ways the Houston school district plans on helping their students? Feel free to leave a comment below.