Across the country, kids are donning backpacks and making the journey back to school, but for children in the path of Hurricane Harvey, lockers and lunchrooms have been forgotten amid the reality of evacuation boats and emergency relief supplies.
Students in Houston public schools who were scheduled to start classes Monday won’t go back to school until Sept. 5 at the earliest. However, the effect of the hurricane on children’s education will likely stretch much longer.
Consider the consequences of Hurricane Katrina, which battered the Gulf Coast in 2005, followed closely by Hurricane Rita. New Orleans’ public education system was struggling even prior to the hurricanes, as it worked to provide for high-need students and overcome a lack of investment in public education. In 2005, before Katrina, Orleans Parish was ranked 67th out of 68 Louisiana parishes for student achievement. In 2004, 38 percent of New Orleans children lived in poverty, compared with 23 percent of children living in poor families in all of Louisiana. After Katrina, an already vulnerable school district was completely upended. More than 160,000 Louisiana and Mississippi children were displaced. Children missed weeks, months, even a year of school.
“I can’t stress enough how critical it is that kids not lose out on their schooling and how important it is that they get back to school,” said Alice Fothergill, a professor of sociology at the University of Vermont. She and a fellow sociology professor, Lori Peek of the University of Colorado, Boulder, studied more than 600 children over seven years in the aftermath of Katrina.
“We met a lot of kids whose life trajectories really changed completely as a result of losing out on a great deal of time in school, and then for a lot of kids, never returning,” Fothergill told HuffPost.
One element that contributed to the effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’ children was their situation prior to the devastating storm. Fothergill and Peek found that children who were in more vulnerable situations prior to the hurricane, perhaps due to finances or an unstable family situation, were more likely to drop out of school after Katrina (even in the absence of a disaster, there is a strong correlation between poverty and dropout rates). They also said that students who have to move frequently are more likely to drop out of school.