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Crisis Data Management: A Forum Guide to Collecting and Managing Data About Displaced Students
NCES 2010-804
February 2010

Chapter 1. Introduction—Key Issues From Past Crises

While this document reflects experience from a wide range of crises, the vast majority of its recommendations are derived from "lessons learned" by education institutions affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September, 2005. The consequences of these disasters clearly transcended matters of education, but the ramifications for educational services were severe. In fact, these crises combined to cause the largest displacement of students in American history. In Louisiana alone, nearly 200,000 public elementary and secondary students were displaced—more than 26 percent of Louisiana's prestorm enrollment.1

Not all school crises are "national" tragedies

On December 10, 2007, Jones High School in Jones, Oklahoma was destroyed by fire during an ice storm that caused the fire hydrant's water pressure to fade. The entire population of over 300 students in the rural community lost their school in one night.

Source: Olivarez 2007. Jones High School Destroyed By Fire. NewsOK.com. Retrieved June 11, 2008.

Crises come in many forms and scenarios, and some can displace families and students. For example, a school or district may quickly lose some or all of its students, staff, buildings, and data after a devastating fire or flood. In such a situation, another school or district might step in to help and, in some cases, gain newly displaced students quite suddenly. When reviewing the data management processes used to track students in this type of situation, three key concerns arise.

  • Student displacement within a state: When a student moves within a state, a statewide information system can be very helpful for school reassignment. Transfers within a state should be easier to monitor than movement between states, especially when statewide data standards have already been established. The most useful data standard for tracking students is a unique student identifier, which streamlines the process of providing districts with placement information on new students. In many cases, districts within the same state are subject to the same policies governing credits needed for graduation, grade placement, program eligibility, and accountability measures, all of which make educational placement and the delivery of services for displaced students much easier.
  • Student displacement between states: Quickly connecting students with their records is much more difficult when displaced students cross state lines. Disparate procedures and state policies, including issues of privacy, complicate data sharing. For example, because student identifiers are usually unique only within a single state, linking between states requires developing sophisticated matching algorithms and other labor-intensive tasks. Varying state policies on grade placement, testing, promotion, and graduation requirements are all obstacles to student placement.
  • Sharing individual student data in a timely manner: After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, there was considerable confusion about federal, state, and local rules and policies governing the transfer of student data during an emergency. Because of the massive scale of the two crises, data did not accompany students in a timely manner. Many new students were permitted to enroll in districts without appropriate school records. Without incoming students' official records, enrollment and educational service decisions were often incorrect. Indeed, placing students into an educational environment without access to educational records imposes a significant burden on the receiving school and may be a substantial detriment to the student. For example, children with special needs may not receive the services they require, and some students may not even be assigned to the correct grades.

Lessons Learned: The Inability to Obtain Student Records Upon Enrollment

Customary enrollment methods and processes were not functional following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As students moved, districts could not obtain basic student information such as credits earned and services needed. As a result, some parents were able to enroll their children in incorrect grades for reasons such as keeping siblings together, grade advancement, early graduation, and even athletic eligibility.


Private and home schools

During a large movement of students, some private-school or homeschooled children will enroll in public schools, and some public school students may switch to private schools or become homeschooled. In Louisiana, nonpublic schools report basic data to the state, including transcript data, to support scholarship funding. Having records from these institutions eased communications following hurricane Katrina. Relationships with private schools and homeschool organizations are a prerequisite to good contingency planning, and those schools and organizations should therefore be included in disaster recovery planning.

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1Rand/Gulf States Policy Institute. 2006. Student Displacement in Louisiana after the Hurricanes of 2005: Experiences of Public Schools and Their Students.

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