How Schools are Impacted by Disasters

Natural disasters are causing schools to close nationwide, impacting students' social, educational, and mental health, necessitating strategic plans for faster school restoration.
African school students

The news has been replete with fires, hurricanes, floods, natural consequences of climate change and a host of other natural crisis. I continue to read stories of how these issues have impacted regional schools, and their staff, students and families.

Schools have become so much more than a place for education. It’s a hub of every community. There are classes and academics but also an entire social system. It’s where students find their friends. Schools become a community resource for meetings, disaster relief, sports events, and for some students the most safe place they go each day. For students in low socio-economic situations, there’s food security where they can get breakfast and lunch. It’s also a place where they can report issues in their families and neighborhoods where there’s a need for emergency help.

Our schools at Lakeside become a place where students can call if they are in a dire or dangerous situation. In recent days, Lakeside has been providing counseling to many schools for students who are struggling with issues related to their mental health and sometimes their safety.

Imagine what happens when there is an issue that closes a school. For example, students in Maui have had their schools burn down. Areas where there have been floods and hurricanes have been closed for weeks or months. Schools in Philadelphia and Puerto Rico have closed due to extreme heat and lack of air conditioning. When there’s an earthquake the engineering structures of schools are compromised and cannot be occupied. Even when there is asbestos found in a school building, it has to be closed for remediation.

In a recent article in USA, it cites that, The Federal Emergency Management Agency last year estimated more than 300 federally declared major disasters hit the nation between 2017 and 2019 and more than half of the nation’s schools were in the affected counties, according to a study from the Government Accountability Office addressed to the Congressional Committee.

About 4 million kids attend schools in the nation’s flood zones, according to a report from Pew Charitable Trusts

“We have found that school districts affected by natural disasters have faced a range of recovery challenges, including trauma and mental health issues among students and staff, lost instructional time, staff burnout, and financial strain,” the federal accountability office’s report found.

I’ve seen reports of children asking the same questions about their school as they do about their own homes:

  • When will we be able to go back to our own school?
  • Where are my friends?
  • What happened to my teacher?

Along with all the services and opportunities that schools provide, the loss of a school to a student and their family is significant since many parents work, and school becomes the place where their child can be attended to while they are working. The chaos of losing a school is a community crisis and recently it seems we have more of these school closings due to varied disasters and situational destruction.

Moreso, what are the long-standing mental health consequences to thousands of students who are out of their school?

Just like we have government relief for housing and rebuilding of our regional infrastructure when we experience these natural disasters, we should have specific strategic plans to restore our schools as quickly as we can. There have been millions of dollars appropriated to rebuild our schools but clearly it is not keeping pace with the need. It should become a high priority for our state and federal legislators as we see the rise of school crises across our country.

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