Schools and Storms: Preparing for Natural Disasters


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Preparing for natural disasters is a grim fact of life for school districts in many parts of the country, especially those in coastal areas. As education leaders review their school safety plans and policies, it may be prudent to include updates to responses to natural disasters.

So far this school year, Hurricanes Florence and Michael have caused over 100 school districts to close for multiple days. In response to Hurricane Florence, South Carolina issued closures for 26 counties and North Carolina closed 49 school districts. Because of Hurricane Michael, Florida closed over 30 school districts.

We have monitored post-disaster actions in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina. Based on what we’ve seen in these states, education leaders may want to review the considerations outlined below regarding school closures, calendar flexibility and post-disaster student needs.

Early School Closures

  • Issuing orders for school closures ahead of natural disasters may contribute to statewide preparedness efforts by freeing up safety and rescue resources, such as school buses for evacuation transportation and school buildings for shelter.
  • Long school closures may have impacts on students who rely on school meals and create unexpected child care needs for families.

Calendar Flexibility

  • Additional waivers may need to be issued for lost instructional days because of natural disasters.
  • Average daily attendance counts may need to be adjusted as students and families evacuate and return home.
  • Teacher pay and number of service day requirements may need to be reviewed and accommodated.

Ongoing Student Needs

  • Additional transportation costs may be incurred while students and families are displaced from their homes.
  • School enrollment requirements for displaced students may present additional hardships for families, as important identity documents and health records may be lost or destroyed.
  • Student testing and assessments planned near the natural disaster may need to be postponed or rescheduled while students and families return to their homes.
  • Depending on the extent of the storm damage, reopening schools may take longer than anticipated. Having enrollment and transportation contingency plans may help get students back in the classroom quickly.

The U.S. Department of Education maintains disaster relief information online. Learn more about federal resources, guidance and grant programs here.

We track state legislation related to school safety and emergency preparedness. Use our State Education Policy Tracking resource to learn more about school safety measures.

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Senior Project Manager at Education Commission of the States |

As a senior project manager, Erin supports the foundational research services at Education Commission of the States and has a particular interest in the areas of postsecondary access and success. Before joining the organization, Erin earned her master's degree in higher education administration from the University of Denver and a bachelor's degree in English from Boston College. On weekends, Erin is an amateur crafter and quilter.

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