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What research exists regarding the role of the federal government in supporting school systems devastated by catastrophic events, including lessons from Hurricane Katrina and other events?

November 2017

Following an established REL Northeast & Islands research protocol, we conducted a search for recent research on federal support for school systems devastated by catastrophic events. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed research on federal government support for school systems after catastrophic events. The sources searched included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo).

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response and we offer them only for your reference. Because our search for references is based on the most commonly used resources of research, it is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Kanter, R. K. & Abramson, D. (2014). School Interventions after the Joplin Tornado. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 29(2), 214–217.
    Direct access to article:
    From the abstract: “Qualitative exploratory study conducted six months after the tornado. Key informant interviews with school staff (teachers, psychologists, guidance counselor, nurse, principal), public health official, and physicians. After the tornado, school staff immediately worked to contact every enrolled child to provide assistance and coordinate recovery services. Despite severe damage to half of the city's schools, the decision was made to reopen schools at the earliest possible time to provide a safe, reassuring environment and additional services. An expanded summer school session emphasized child safety and emotional wellbeing. The 2011- 2012 school year began on time, less than three months after the disaster, using temporary facilities. Displaced children were bused to their usual schools regardless of their new temporary residence locations. In just-in-time training sessions, teachers developed strategies to support students and staff experiencing anxiety or depression. Certified counselors conducted school-based, small-group counseling for students. Selective referrals were made to community mental health providers for children with greatest needs. Evidence from Joplin adds to a small body of empirical experience demonstrating the important contribution of schools to post-disaster community recovery. Despite timely and proactive services, many families and children struggled after the tornado. Improvements in the effectiveness of post disaster interventions at schools will follow from future scientific evidence on optimal approaches.”
  2. Mutch, C. (2016). Schools as Communities and for Communities: Learning from the 2010-2011 New Zealand Earthquakes. School Community Journal, 26(1), 115–138.
    From the abstract: “The author followed five primary (elementary) schools over three years as they responded to and began to recover from the 2010-2011 earthquakes in and around the city of Christchurch in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. The purpose was to capture the stories for the schools themselves, their communities, and for New Zealand’s historical records. From the wider study, data from the qualitative interviews highlighted themes such as children’s responses or the changing roles of principals and teachers. The theme discussed in this article, however, is the role that schools played in the provision of facilities and services to meet (a) physical needs (food, water, shelter, and safety); and (b) emotional, social, and psychological needs (communication, emotional support, psychological counseling, and social cohesion) – both for themselves and their wider communities. The role schools played is examined across the immediate, short-, medium-, and long-term response periods before being discussed through a social bonding theoretical lens. The article concludes by recommending stronger engagement with schools when considering disaster policy, planning, and preparation.”
  3. Clettenberg, S., Gentry, J., Held, M., & Mock, L. A. (2011). Traumatic loss and natural disaster: A case study of a school-based response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. School Psychology International, 32(5), 553-566.
    From the abstract: “This article tracks the trajectory and impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the communities of Houston/Harris County, Texas, USA, the schools, children, and families; along with the community partnerships that addressed the trauma and upheaval. Following the influx of individuals and families who were displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita into the Houston/Harris County area, expertise regarding trauma, particularly childhood trauma, coupled with an effective vehicle for the delivery of mental health services, was in great demand. As illustrated by the Houston experience, schools were a tremendous asset because of their access to students and families who needed effective trauma informed relief services. As told from the viewpoint of DePelchin Children’s Center, a nonprofit community mental health agency, this case study examines the connection between the Houston Independent School District and DePelchin that supplied an immediate, as well as long term, mental health response to the trauma experienced by families and individuals who fled Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Houston area experiences have direct implications for those working in schools to service the trauma-focused mental health needs of children and their families.”
  4. Carr-Chellman, A. A., et al. (2008). Change in Chaos: Seven Lessons Learned from Katrina. Educational Horizons, 87(1), 26–39.
    From the abstract: “This article discusses seven lessons learned from Katrina, suggesting that after chaos: (1) there is hope; (2) there is a strong atmosphere of indeterminacy; (3) things tend to break apart and reform in somewhat similar ways but with different values; (4) there is a desire for organization, leadership, and familiarity; (5) there is a sense of loss; (6) the old problems are still there; and (7) the larger culture still bears on the system. The authors reflect on these lessons using educators' voices and by exploring how the experience of school change in post-Katrina New Orleans intersects with the broader literature on change so that a deep discussion of change after chaos might help to inform future efforts to change school systems. The authors believe that learning these lessons may be essential to those facing change after chaotic events, be they hurricanes, tsunamis, or political upheavals.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Readiness and Emergency Readiness for Schools,
From the website: “We support schools, school districts, and institutions of higher education (IHEs), with their community partners, in the development of high quality emergency operations plans (EOPs) and comprehensive emergency management planning efforts. Established in October 2004 and administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS), the REMS TA Center provides a hub of information, resources, training, and services in the field of school and higher ed emergency operations planning.”

National Center for Homeless Education,
From the website: “Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) operates the Department’s technical assistance center for the federal Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program. In this role, NCHE works with schools, service providers, parents, and other interested stakeholders to ensure that children and youth experiencing homelessness can enroll and succeed in school.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

Federal support for school districts after natural disasters/catastrophic events

Government support/help school district natural disaster recovery

School district + natural disaster/catastrophic event/disaster + support

School principal support disaster recovery

Support for school systems after disaster

Support for school systems recovery from disaster

Federal lessons for schools after disaster

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Ebscohost.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 12 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.

Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including WWC, ERIC, and NCEE.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types – randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc.; (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Northeast & Islands Region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, and Vermont), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands at Education Development Center. This memorandum was prepared by REL Northeast & Islands under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0008, administered by Education Development Center. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.