The Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Technology and Media Infrastructures in Louisiana and Mississippi School Districts

By Hancock, Robert; Nauman, Anne et al. | Multicultural Education, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Technology and Media Infrastructures in Louisiana and Mississippi School Districts


Hancock, Robert, Nauman, Anne, Fulwiler, John, Multicultural Education


Perhaps one of the worst disasters in United States history, Hurricane Katrina is expected to have a lasting impact on the economies of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida with losses in the billions of dollars (Zwaniecki, 2005). Given that the economic foundation of the approximately 600 schools and libraries affected was far from ideal before the hurricane, the prospect of recovery for technology and media infrastructures seemed dim.

The United States Department of Education appointed Henry Johnson, current Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, to examine the specific educational needs of Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Gulf region that were caused by the Katrina disaster as the department sought ways to redirect funding to meet the needs of disaster victims (United States Department of Education, 2005). Johnson was quick to allow waivers of requirements under 2416(a) of ESEA that required that 25% of Title IID monies be spent on professional development.

Although this was helpful, and the United States Department of Education was to come up with several other initiatives to assist schools in the affected regions, this study indicates very strongly that technology directors and media specialists throughout the region consider the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) eRate Program to be the true hero so far in reconstructing technology infrastructures throughout the affected areas.

Background

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, devastating approximately 90,000 square miles of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida (Morse, 2005). Katrina caused widespread devastation to parish (school district) infrastructures, forcing the displacement of tens of thousands of students (Kantrowitz & Breslau, 2005). In Texas alone, school officials said they were enrolling approximately 19,000 students displaced by the storm.

On September 7, 2005, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, directed in a letter to Chief State School Officers that portions of the initial $10.5 billion in disaster relief be directed toward construction of temporary instructional facilities to offset losses in infrastructure (Spellings, 2005). She also indicated that school reconstruction would be a major part of all future assistance packages.

It was during these early stages that the FCC took quick and decisive action. On October 18, 2005 the FCC indicated a special funding window for $96,000,000 in targeted eRate funds for Katrina-affected districts. This money was for the specific purpose of rebuilding telephone and computer networks and accommodating displaced students. To assist districts in applying, the FCC made several accommodations to the normal rules regarding awarding of funds, which will be discussed in detail later.

When considering that Orleans Parish was approved for more than $3 million dollars in funding in December of 2005, while over a year later there are still huge swaths of the city left as they were the day after the hurricane, is a testimony to the efforts of the FCC and their subsidiary agencies.

Methods

The authors set about this research with little or no knowledge of the impact of Katrina on technology and media infrastructures. It was the authors' intention to provide a descriptive snapshot of the damage done and the relief received. To accomplish this goal, an online form was created, and the technology contacts for school districts listed in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) zones for individual assistance were contacted.

In these zones, FEMA, along with other federal, state, and local agencies, was providing aid to individual citizens and households in the form of grants, loans, tax relief, counseling, as well as emergency food and shelter. Unfortunately, due to the timing of the beginning of this study, classifications for Florida and Texas were not yet available, and for this reason, they were not included in the study. …

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