The Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida is set to welcome students displaced from their homes in Puerto Rico and other islands as a result of Hurricane Maria, but at this point, they don’t know whether to expect hundreds or thousands, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Currently, the district’s more than 240 schools can accommodate roughly 27,000 more students, the article says.
The district already has a large population of Puerto Rican and other Spanish-speaking students, and in some schools, more than three-fourths of the students are Hispanic.
With hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria forcing many students to leave their homes and schools this fall, district and school leaders across the South, but especially in Texas and Florida, are working to accommodate families looking to provide some stability for their children. They're also likely looking for ways to prevent negative outcomes such as learning loss and trauma-related symptoms. Following Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, researchers found ongoing effects among the 200,000 students who were displaced. Five years after the hurricane, their study showed that almost 35% of middle and high school students were a year or more behind in school, and 4.5 times more likely to have “symptoms consistent with serious emotional disturbance” than a comparable group of children surveyed the year before. The researchers called for increasing mental health services available to students affected by such disasters.
Other studies, however, have shown that displaced students’ achievement eventually increased, which is likely a reflection of the post-Katrina charter school reforms in New Orleans. Even so, experts say the lessons from Katrina can help guide those schools currently receiving students who might have lost their homes. Most advise schools to enroll students as soon as possible even if their records are incomplete. Strategies such as tutoring, mentoring programs and trauma-focused interventions can address both the academic and emotional issues that might be affecting students impacted by the hurricanes. Administrators, however, may need to reach out to community organizations for extra support if they don’t already have programs in place.