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Managing Climate Crises: Resources for School Boards

Managing Climate Crises: Resources for School Boards

It is no secret that New Orleans has been impacted by many crisis events – some still impacting the area today. In fact, this August marks the 19th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. And while Katrina feels like a distant past, the catastrophic weather events remain frequent in the area, causing a ripple effect on day-to-day life from housing, to business, to schooling and beyond.

More recently, almost a year after COVID-19 shut down the world, New Orleans was hit with Hurricane Ida, which damaged our electric grid and left the city without power for about a week, and in some areas several weeks.

This meant that our schools and ultimately our families were disrupted. As an elected school board member in New Orleans and parent of a public school student, I am intimately aware of the challenges that a crisis can offer Districts. Addressing crises in a school district requires many ongoing considerations. This is why my focus continues to remain on the infrastructure and functionality of our schools and working to provide district leaders with resources and tools for preparing for and working through a weather related crisis event. Here are some general considerations for each phase:

Before - preparedness measures before a climate event

  • Develop and maintain relationships with state agencies so that you know whom to contact and how in the event of a crisis

  • Create recommendations for emergency preparedness kits that can help schools be prepared

  • Predetermine an emergency response team; not everyone can or should have access to the facility in crisis; identify a specific team that can liaise with local authorities, federal agencies and media
    • Establish methods of communication with your board colleagues such as a phone tree

  • Develop and maintain relationships with area nonprofits, churches, civil rights organizations, etc. that could serve as a pillar of support and safe space

  • Develop an ongoing assessment of infrastructure that will help to more effectively and efficiently understand the pre-challenges of facilities; this can also provide a road map of assessment (for example, assess lifespan of building roofs to determine possibility and severity of water damage in a facility)
    • Additionally, create processes for facility support during a crisis – i.e., powering down buildings to reduce financial burden, or turning on AC to reduce risk of moisture damage, etc

  • Approve contracts for emergency purposes ahead of typical extreme weather seasons to ensure agreements are complete and signed so that damage evaluation and mitigation specialists can immediately evaluate emergency response needs

During - considerations to take into account during crisis

  • Activate the emergency team and start the assessment of infrastructure

  • Open communication to local authorities, state partners, federal agencies and media, if needed. Depending on the type and impact of the crisis there may need to be a joint plan to address the crisis. Opening the lines of communication will ensure that the District is included on strategies and resources

  • Open communication to families and students: share assessment of damage, plans for addressing as well as intake information about their needs, such that you can advocate on their behalf. Remember, you need your students and families to be able to within stand and recover from the crisis

  • Create timeline for school opening / engaging students: this may differ from city open and/or could include plans to transition to satellite location, then steps to rebuild/reopen

  • Maintain financial tracking: detail which expenditures are part of regular school expenses vs disaster spending (CFO can work to get state and FEMA reimbursement where possible)

After - working to stabilize and support following a crisis

  • Respond in the immediate to trauma of crisis that has occurred: student/family resource support and mental health services

  • Establish federal, state, and local plan for additional financial support (maintain financial tracking for FEMA reimbursement)

  • Create a long-term response plan to address the trauma of crisis

  • Review policies to determine if waivers or updates are needed to account for the impacts of the crisis (i.e. do you need to ask the state for a waiver related to seat time requirement for students matriculation to the next grade?)