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Unintended costs and consequences of school closures implemented in preparation for Hurricane Isaac in Harrison County School District, Mississippi, August-September 2012.

Abstract

School closures, while an effective measure against the spread of disease during a pandemic, may carry unintended social and economic consequences for students and families. We evaluated these costs and consequences following a 4-day school closure in Mississippi's Harrison County School District (HCSD).

In a survey of all households with students enrolled in HCSD, we collected information on difficulties related to the school closure, including interruption of employment and pay, loss of access to subsidized school meals, and arrangement of alternative childcare. We analyzed this information in the context of certain demographic characteristics of the survey respondents and households, such as race, level of education, and income. We also estimated the average number of lost work days and documented the childcare alternatives chosen by households affected by the school closure.

To help prevent undue financial hardship in families of school children, public health authorities and school administrators should provide recommendations for childcare alternatives and paid leave or remote work options during prolonged school closures, particularly to households in which all adults work outside of the home.

We received 2,229 (28.4%) completed surveys from an estimated 7,851 households eligible to participate. About half (1,082 [48.5%]) of the households experienced at least some difficulty during the closure, primarily in three areas: uncertainty about duration of the closure, lost income, and the effort of arranging alternate childcare. Adults working outside the home, particularly the major wage earner in the household, were more likely to suffer lost income while schools were closed, an effect mitigated by paid leave benefits. Difficulty arranging childcare was reported most frequently by respondents with lower levels of education and households with younger children. Beyond the top three concerns expressed by households in HCSD, the survey also shed light on the issue of food insecurity when subsidized school meals are not available. Reported by 17.9% of households participating in the subsidized school lunch program, difficulty providing meals during the closure was associated with higher numbers of dependent children, selection of "other" as the race of the household respondent, and lower levels of education.

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