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Hurricane Charley

400,000 students still out of school

At least 12 districts are dealing with problems from tree debris to leaky roofs to power outages. Most hope to resume classes Monday.

By MELANIE AVE
Published August 18, 2004

Much of the third floor collapsed at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda. In Fort Myers, the brick walls of Cypress Lake High School cracked. The roof at Ben Hill Griffin Jr. Elementary School in Frostproof peeled off.

That's a snapshot of the damage Hurricane Charley inflicted on at least 12 Florida school districts, stretching from Lee County on the Gulf Coast to Volusia County on the east coast.

State educators estimate about 400,000 children are still out of school because of the Friday hurricane, more than the enrollment in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties combined.

Officials are still trying to determine the extent and cost of all of the damage.

This much is known: 10 school districts were without full power Tuesday and seven had no power. The damage was worst in Charlotte County, where only four of its 21 schools escaped undamaged.

Officials in Volusia County are worried about ruined food in schools that were without electricity for a time. Numerous school districts reported problems with tree debris, leaky roofs and power outages.

In Osceola County, 16 of the district's 38 schools were without power Tuesday.

Maintenance workers, engineers, plumbers and electricians from numerous school districts, including in the Tampa Bay area, are offering help to those shut down by the high winds and rain.

Most school districts hope to resume classes Monday. Hardee and Charlotte counties are shooting for Aug. 30.

Eight schools in Charlotte were so badly damaged they may have to be rebuilt. Students from Punta Gorda may be bused to lesser damaged Port Charlotte schools. Some schools may have to begin double sessions.

"We're doing everything we can to get ready," said Mike Riley, a district spokesman. "Right now, we've asked the staff to stay off the campuses. They're just not safe."

The state is moving 150 portables to Charlotte to help with the reopening.

"Charlotte County is going to be a major, major rebuilding effort," said John Winn, Florida's new education commissioner.

Some schools are trying to figure out how to make up the lost days in the 180-day school calendar.

Seminole superintendent Bill Vogel said children may lose some vacation time for the six days they have missed. Three schools had roofs ripped away, as did the district's main office.

"We're very concerned about the days," he said. "Every day is very important to us."

Some school districts may ask the state to exempt some days, said David Mosrie, chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Another issue is the FCAT. State officials are considering whether to adjust the testing schedule in the hardest hit counties. They will have a better idea in a few days, Winn said.

Mosrie said the FCAT, while important, is a minor worry.

"Superintendents right now are concerned about the health and safety of their students," he said. "A lot kids are homeless and not sure how they're going to be fed at the end of day."

At George W. Jenkins Senior High school in Lakeland, assistant principal Donna Nicolodi is preparing for the students' return on Monday.

The school had its awnings ripped off, a dozen trees torn from the ground or split and shingles blown away.

Students will not be allowed to use the walkways in the back of the school where the trees were damaged.

"If I may say, I feel very blessed," Nicolodi said. "Monday will be business as usual."

At De Soto High School in De Soto County, assistant principal Linda Shayman had little time to talk.

"We have a lot of water damage," she said between breaths. "There was some damage in the gym, cafeteria, a lot of ceiling tiles."

Some schools that weathered the hurricane were still being used this week as shelters for people left homeless.

Mosrie said getting children back into the routine of school will help put Charley and its devastation in the past. Schools already are preparing teams of counselors to help children and teachers adjust.

"The new challenge will be helping these young people who have faced this kind of trauma," he said. "These kids have witnessed things most people never experience in a lifetime."

Staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at 813 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com

SCHOOL DAMAGE, BY COUNTY

CHARLOTTE: Expects to reopen Aug. 30. All but four of its 21 schools suffered damage, with eight having major damage. Three schools now being used as shelters.

COLLIER: Expects to reopen Monday. Loss of power is biggest issue.

DE SOTO: Expects to reopen Monday. Loss of power a problem. Some schools being used as shelters.

HARDEE: Expects to reopen Aug. 30. Major damage to several schools, including roofs and portable classrooms.

HIGHLANDS: Expected reopening date uncertain. Loss of power and phone service.

LEE: Expects to reopen Monday. Gymnasium and auditorium damaged at two high schools. Two middle schools without roofs. No power in some areas.

MANATEE: Two schools temporarily closed. Students may have to be reassigned.

POLK: Expects to reopen Monday. Roof damage at several schools and extensive damage to portable classrooms. Loss of power in part of the county.

OSCEOLA: Expects to reopen Monday. Sixteen of the 38 schools were without power. The roof blew off one high school.

ORANGE: Expects to reopen Tuesday. Six schools with significant damage. Road debris and power outages a problem.

SEMINOLE: Expects to reopen Monday. Of 60 schools, 75 percent had limbs and trees that fell. Three schools and the district office had roofs ripped off.

VOLUSIA: Expects to reopen Monday. Downed trees and debris an issue. Food in cafeterias ruined.

Source: Times research, Florida Association of District School Superintendents and Florida School Boards Association.

[Last modified August 17, 2004, 23:56:10]


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