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Students back at school away from protests

In an attempt to shield students from the Schiavo situation, school officials move classes. But disruption follows.

Published March 29, 2005

LARGO - School officials at Cross Bayou Elementary hoped Monday's return from spring break would be as normal as possible.

It didn't start out that way.

First, they moved the students to a temporary school site 4 miles away from Cross Bayou. The idea was to shield them from protests at nearby Hospice House Woodside, home to Terri Schiavo.

But when pupils arrived Monday at the Gus A. Stavros Center, the scene was eerily similar.

A police officer directed traffic. Crews from local and national media outlets trained cameras on cars entering the parking lot. Reporters tried to interview parents dropping off their children.

At the center's entrance, principal Marcia Stone stood with a group of Cross Bayou teachers, staff and district administrators. They greeted the children and delivered them to other staff members waiting to take them inside the building at 12100 Starkey Road.

School officials decided Saturday to move to Stavros after protests outside the hospice became more emotional.

After roll was taken, kindergarteners, first-graders and children with special needs left through the back door with their teachers, who walked them next door to Walsingham Elementary. Third- and fourth-graders spent the day next to Walsingham at Southern Oak Elementary. Second- and fifth-graders stayed at Stavros.

"It's very contained," Stone said of the overall area. "It's very safe for all of them."

She said she had no idea how long the children would remain at Stavros.

About three-quarters of the school's 600 children showed up, the district said in a news release. Teachers stayed with their classes and tried to conduct business as usual until the normal dismissal time, when buses arrived to take most of the students home.

Those who normally walk to school were transported back to the top of 102nd Avenue, the dead-end street where Cross Bayou and Hospice House Woodside are located.

Walsingham Elementary principal Richard Nordmark said the day was quiet despite the additional children at his school.

"You do what you have to do," he said. "You're there for the kids."

The day began quietly at Cross Bayou. The building was deserted except for the head plant operator and several staff members. Only a half-dozen cars were parked in a lot that is normally full at 8:30 a.m.

Five or six parents who didn't realize the students had been relocated attempted to drop children off but were redirected by Pinellas Park police Officer Ben Simpkin.

Simpkin, who has a second-grader at Cross Bayou, said he was glad the children had been relocated.

"They've been talking about trying to free Terri," he said. "What better diversion could there be than a school full of children?"

[Last modified March 29, 2005, 01:31:18]

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