Student Well-Being

Schools Address Health Concerns of Evacuated Students

By Vaishali Honawar — September 13, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In the first two days of the school year in Dallas, Rosemary Allen has witnessed a gamut of emotions among children displaced by Hurricane Katrina: older students crying as they board the bus to school; some who are reluctant to talk in class; and others who seem happier keeping to themselves.

“They have been through an awful lot,” said the 159,000-student district’s associate superintendent for student services. “Maybe they are concerned and anxious about separating from their parents at this point, and that’s understandable.”

Even some parents are reluctant to send their children to school because of fears of separation, she added.

See Also

View an updated collection of outreach resources from state and national agencies,

Hurricane Relief: Outreach From National Organizations

Join our ongoing discussion,

Around the country, districts that have seen their enrollments swell in the aftermath of the hurricane are addressing the physical and mental-health needs of the student evacuees in addition to meeting their educational needs.

Psychologists say children who have lived through a traumatizing event of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina could exhibit conditions such as anxiety and fearfulness, difficulty with sleeping, extreme fatigue, irritability, and stomachaches and headaches.

“When children are having severe anxiety and fearfulness, we want to make every effort to listen to them, to reassure them, give them help and support,” said Ted Feinberg, the assistant director of the Bethesda, Md.-based National School Psychologists Association. The group recommends that teachers provide opportunities for the evacuee children to share their concerns, but not to force discussion.

Ill Effects

On the physical-health front, several states have temporarily waived immunization requirements for displaced students and are offering free tetanus shots at health clinics to adults and children exposed to floodwaters. The potential hazards were underscored late last week by reports that some people exposed to the fetid waters in New Orleans were experiencing health problems.

“We are just accepting any health records they have, or we are going on the word of parents,” said Susan Underwood, the coordinator of homeless programs for the Arkansas education department. “We will deal with the information later.”

The state has so far received more than 1,000 students displaced by the storm.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says on its Web site that outbreaks of infectious diseases following hurricanes are rare in developed countries. Among children, as among adults, possible effects include diarrhea and dysentery, said CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden, adding that officials are closely monitoring shelters housing the evacuees.

On Sept. 7, the federal Environment Protection Agency warned of high levels of E. coli bacteria, which can cause severe diarrhea and other diseases, in flooded areas in New Orleans. But in areas aiding displaced residents, health officials sought to reassure residents by saying that those coming in from flooded regions did not pose a health risk, and noting that there had been no major outbreaks of disease other than scattered reports of diarrheal illnesses.

In the Dallas school district, which had enrolled 300 students staying in shelters but hundreds more who are living with relatives or friends, students were screened for dysentery on the first two days of school, and eight students had to be pulled out for treatment, Ms. Allen said.

Stretched Thin

Experts warn that dealing with student evacuees’ emotional needs is a long-term issue that will be a particular challenge because of the lack of resources in most affected school districts.

“This is going to be a big planning problem,” said Howard Adelman, a professor of psychology and the co-director of the School Mental Health Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. He said that besides responding to students’ emotional needs, schools must plan for engaging the newcomers and for placing students who qualify for special education. It is also not uncommon for students who have gone through a traumatizing event to develop learning disorders, he said.

“There is going to have to be a plan to identify kids who have delayed reactions,” he said.

Lupita Garcia, the director of parent and student services for the 30,000-student Irving, Texas, district, said the district had enrolled 126 displaced students as of late last week. District officials were using motivational speakers and organizing group discussion sessions for families displaced by the storm, she said.

“It is key for us to keep in mind that many of these adults have their own issues to deal with—their dreams, their losses,” Ms. Garcia said. “They are not able to help the children emotionally because they are dealing with a lot of their own issues.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2005 edition of Education Week as Schools Address Health Concerns of Evacuated Students


Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Incarcerated LGBTQ Youth Are Struggling. Here's How Bad It Is
LGBTQ youth in juvenile detention centers face far greater mental health challenges compared with those in public schools.
5 min read
Image of mental health concept.
Nadezhda Deineka/iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being What the Research Says Teen Brains Aged Prematurely During the Pandemic. Schools Should Take Note
Researchers cite chronic stress during the pandemic for the phenomenon, which can affect mental health among youth.
3 min read
Cracked silhouette of a person holding their head with illuminated gears in place of the brain.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being Sports Coaches Want More Training on How to Address Young Athletes' Mental Health
A survey found that only 18 percent of coaches feel confident that they know how to connect their athletes to mental health supports.
4 min read
Physical Education teacher Amanda DeLaGarza instructs students how to stretch during 7th grade P.E. class at Cockrill Middle School on Nov. 9, 2016 in McKinney, Texas.
Schools in the United States earned a D-minus grade in 2022 in an international ranking from the Physical Activity Alliance for how well they facilitate access to physical activity for students. Research shows that physical activity, such as participation in sports, improves mental health.
Ting Shen/The Dallas Morning News via AP
Student Well-Being Opinion One Simple Thing You Can Do to Make Yourself Happier
A happiness and time researcher shares a simple hack to make experiences more pleasurable.
Cassie Holmes
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.