‘Until Further Notice’: 5 Districts Still Closed After Ian, Disrupting FL’s Ed System
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In Southwest Charlotte County, there are ten elementary schools, four middle schools, and three high schools. However, due to the impact of Hurricane Ian, these schools are currently empty with no students or staff present.
Similarly, DeSoto County, which has only seven schools, has also been closed. The same is true for Hardee, Lee, and Sarasota counties.
In total, the Florida Department of Education has reported that five school districts in Florida are closed "until further notice," affecting approximately 168,000 schoolchildren who are unable to attend classes for an unknown period of time.
Much like the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were forced to close and students had to rely on online learning, this situation caused significant disruptions to the lives of families, students, teachers, and staff members.
Now, the disruptions are caused by a massive storm, Hurricane Ian, which has resulted in numerous fatalities and a wide range of destruction. The recovery and remediation efforts will pose challenges for Florida’s education system, including issues such as bus routes, internet connectivity, and access to education for students who have already experienced learning gaps in recent years.
Sarasota County has a tentative timeline for reopening schools over the next two weeks. However, the other four districts do not have similar information available.
The question remains: When will the students in Lee, Charlotte, DeSoto, and Hardee counties be able to return to the classrooms? The answer is currently unknown.
The Phoenix reached out to all the affected school districts for additional information, but they have yet to provide a response.
According to the school district websites, the damage caused by Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm that heavily impacted Southwest Florida, has created significant obstacles. Challenges include power outages, flooding, the use of school campuses as emergency shelters, and damage to school buildings, as mentioned by local officials and district websites.
The Charlotte County School District recently posted an update on its website stating that the damage caused by Hurricane Ian is extensive, and they are still assessing the situation to determine the full extent of the damage. Until further notice, there will be no school, and it is unsafe for students or staff to be on the campuses. Charlotte County currently has 16,400 enrolled public students.
Similarly, the DeSoto County School District, with 4,568 students, reports on its website that they will remain closed until further notice due to flooding and damage to multiple facilities. They will communicate a reopening timeline as soon as it is safe to do so.
In a video message on Monday, Lee County School Superintendent Christopher Bernier stated that while some schools may be ready to open with minimal work, others require significant repairs, and some are beyond repair. Lee County, with 97,264 students, took a direct hit from the storm and is still experiencing substantial impacts. They are actively working on plans to address the damaged sites, including possibly relocating students, teachers, and staff. They are seeking resources and assistance from the Florida Department of Education to expedite the process.
The Hardee County school district website does not provide any additional details other than the closure of schools until further notice. Hardee County has 4,941 enrolled students.
Sarasota County is the only district with a projected timeline for reopening, but even they have some schools not opening until the middle of October. The phased reopening plan includes traditional public schools in and north of Venice in Phase 1, and traditional public schools in Englewood and North Port in Phase 2. The district aims to have 32 traditional public schools open by Monday, October 10, and 10 more by October 17. The Sarasota County School District has 43,896 students.
The Sarasota district held a press conference on Tuesday morning to provide further details about the school reopening plans and the challenges they are facing.
In terms of academics, the district is in the process of developing "instructional continuity plans" and will provide resources for families to use while students are at home waiting for schools to reopen, according to Chris Renouf, the Chief Academic Officer of Sarasota.
Renouf stated on Tuesday that there may be certain schools with portable classrooms or areas of their campus that are uninhabitable. Therefore, they need to proactively plan behind the scenes to address these issues and ensure that instructional continuity is not affected. They need to plan ahead for how to move forward under these circumstances.
Regarding at-home learning opportunities and resources, Renouf emphasized the importance of making sure that families are aware of the available resources, activities, recommendations, and electronic materials. Some individuals may have access to these resources while others may not. Nonetheless, they want to ensure that students have learning opportunities even while they are at home and unable to go to campus.
On Monday, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. mentioned that the five school districts might face difficulties reopening this week. However, it was not explicitly stated at that time that the schools would be closed "until further notice," as the department’s website now indicates.
The Florida Department of Education reported that as of Tuesday, 68 out of Florida’s 74 traditional school districts, lab schools, and virtual schools were open, with two more districts expected to reopen by the end of the week.
Florida Phoenix is a member of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus that receives grants and support from a coalition of donors serving as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains its editorial independence. For any inquiries, please contact Editor Diane Rado at email@example.com. You can also follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.
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