Flooded auditorium from Sheldon ISD high school after Hurricane Harvey.

Houston Schools Start to Re-Open, But Back-to-School Delayed for Many

While damage from Hurricane Irma is still being assessed, some students in Houston are just now returning to school after Hurricane Harvey. Others are still waiting for their schools to open, while many others are still unsure as to where they will live, let alone learn.

The back to school season has been in flux for the city of Houston and surrounding areas, and digital communications have been crucial in connecting educators around the country to provide aid and supplies to Houston-area schools in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Districts affected by the hurricane suffered structural damage to schools due to extensive flooding, causing many schools to remain closed until well after Labor Day. Teachers and principals used education technology such as the app Remind (formerly Remind101) to coordinate rescues, provide information about shelters, and send aid and supplies to affected districts, according to Education Week.

Houston, Texas and the surrounding area suffered an estimated $40 billion in damages after the category 5 hurricane swept through the area, causing heavy rainfalls and flooding. Many schools in the area were converted into shelters, with school bus drivers shuttling residents from their homes to the makeshift sanctuaries, reports The Washington Post.

Most area schools were closed until Labor Day weekend, while many remain closed indefinitely, according to Click2Houston. In Klein Independent School District, parents petitioned the school administration to remain closed for an additional week due to concerns over safety and preparedness. Kingwood High School in Humble, Texas will be closed for repairs for the entire school year, with students attending another high school for half-days for the rest of the year.

Many educators and parents are concerned about the negative impact the school closings will have on students, both on their academic performance and their emotional well-being. According to The Atlantic, studies have shown that frequent absences and lack of stability in school can be detrimental to students’ performance in school, so restoring functionality to district schools is a top priority.

Because Hurricane Harvey hit right after the end of summer break, the long absences can also exacerbate “summer slide,” in which students lose academic skills during the summer break and struggle to regain their progress in the following school year.

Low-income students are also losing the free meals provided by the district while schools are closed, contributing further to the instability students are facing. In addition, educators are concerned about the emotional and mental health of the students, which is sure to be impacted by the trauma of the natural disaster as many students face homelessness, injuries, and lack of basic necessities.

Teachers, principals, and administrators from around the country have come together to help the Houston school districts in any way possible. Houston teachers used education apps and other forms of digital communication to check in with other teachers in the area and share information about shelters, evacuations, and school closings. Educators from other parts of the country have been using social media, such as Facebook groups for teachers and administrators, to organize donations of supplies to be sent to the recovering schools.

According to Education Week, other schools have used Google Sheets to “adopt” schools in the Houston area; these schools have been eager to participate in relief efforts and will organize drives for school supplies to be sent along to those in need. Currently, more than 1,700 teachers have been volunteering in over 200 shelters while schools remain closed, according to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.

Houston Independent School District has announced that they will be providing free meals for all students in the district for the entire academic year in order to mitigate the damage done to many of these families, reports USA Today. Elementary schools outside of the flooding area have also been accepting students temporarily into their classrooms in places like northern Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, as well as providing students with uniforms and school supplies.

Digital communications remain an important element of the relief process for the affected school districts, as educators work to restore functionality to damaged buildings and reopen closed schools as soon as possible for students. The aid from other parts of the country, coordinated through social media, will greatly accelerate the healing process for both teachers and students. With help from compassionate teachers from the rest of the United States, Houston-area schools can hope to reopen in the coming weeks and begin to guide students as they process the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey.

Want to learn more about ways to help? 

Here are just a few donation sites for the families and students of Houston and surrounding areas:

Houston ISD Foundation Donation Page for Families

KIPP Houston Family Emergency Fund

Sheldon ISD Education Foundation Donation, Benefitting: Hurricane Harvey

Charlie Scanlan

Charlie is a junior at Boston University studying journalism and Spanish. He enjoys learning new languages, listening to musical theatre, and overanalyzing television shows.