A State-Wide Examination of Disaster-Exposed Children in a School Setting—Attendance, Academic Performance, and Behavioral Changes After Hurricane Katrina
Methods: The current study utilized state-level administrative data from the Louisiana Department of Education containing enrollment and discipline variables for K-12 students in eight school districts directly impacted by HK. The primary explanatory variable was displacement status, which was operationalized as a change in schools after August 2005 as a result of HK. Outcome variables included attendance problems (total days absent in a school year, truancy, and dropout status), behavioral problems (in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, in-school expulsion, and out-of-school expulsion), and school performance (grade retention). Demographic variables included ethnicity, gender, age, school district, and socioeconomic status (free/reduced lunch eligibility).
Two analyses were conducted for each of the 8 outcome variables—one for the 2005-2006 school year and another for the 2006-2007 school year. To examine the outcome variables in the school year HK made landfall (2005-2006), school-related variables from the previous year (2004-2005) were included in the model to account for preexisting conditions. A similar procedure was used for the 2006-2007 school year.
Logistic regression was conducted for dummy-coded outcome variables, poisson regression was used for count variables, and regular OLS regression was applied to the interval-level predictors.
Results: The sample included students (N=230,571) from eight school districts in Louisiana that were directly impacted by HK. Among these students, approximately a third (32%; n=73,727) were displaced by the disaster.
Regarding attendance problems, Katrina-displaced students had more absences during the 2005-2006 school year (R2=0.35, p<0.01) and a higher dropout rate in the following year (PR2=0.26, p<0.01), compared with the non-displaced students. Katrina-displaced students had more discipline charges in 2005-2006 (PR2=0.33, P<0.05), compared with their non-displaced peers; however, this was not the case for the following year.
Displacement due to HK was associated with higher rates of grade retention in the year after the disaster (PR2=0.22, p<0.01), but a negative association was detected for the school year that HK made landfall (PR2=0.23, p<0.01).
Conclusions and Implications: HK had immediate impacts on displaced students’ school attendance and behavior. Researchers should expand on these findings to examine the long-term effects of this natural disaster. Research shows that school discipline practices are strongly associated with future criminal offending. The role of HK in problem behavior and pathways to crime among displaced students should be explored.
The findings of the current study suggest that school mobility due to natural disaster is related to negative school outcomes; thus, school social workers and counselors should employ trauma-informed interventions to promote students’ wellness and stability in school environments in times of crisis. Social work education should include content on practices and interventions addressing natural disasters and trauma.