County pub­lic schools to re­main closed all week

The Palm Beach Post - - HURRICANE IRMA - By An­drew Marra

Palm Beach County’s pub­lic schools will re­main closed for the rest of the week as the school dis­trict reck­ons with wide­spread power out­ages, mal­func­tion­ing air-con­di­tion­ers, fallen trees and a scat­tered work­force.

Two days af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma blew through, Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Avossa an­nounced Tues­day that it would be im­pos­si­ble to open schools this week given the ex­tent of the power dis­rup­tions and other lo­gis­ti­cal is­sues and that he hoped to re­sume classes on Mon­day.

“Our schools will not be ready to re­turn to ser­vice this week,” Avossa said. “A ma­jor­ity of schools re­main with­out power or work­ing air-con­di­tion­ing sys­tems. We an­tic­i­pate re­open­ing schools on Mon­day.”

Af­ter Irma, 75 per­cent of the county’s pub­lic schools were with­out power and an­other 20 per­cent had mal­func­tion­ing air-con­di­tion­ing sys­tems, ad­min­is­tra­tors said. The school dis­trict de­clined to re­lease up­dated fig­ures Tues­day or an­swer ques­tions about school con­di­tions, but Avossa said in a text mes­sage that there had been “some progress.”

The schools are also await­ing food de­liv­er­ies from pri­vate ven­dors, and hun­dreds — pos­si­bly thou­sands — of teach­ers re­main out of state af­ter evac­u­at­ing the area in ad­vance of Hur­ri­cane Irma.

Avossa had said Mon­day that he was hop­ing to re­open schools by Thurs­day. But on Tues­day he ac­knowl­edged that that time­line “may have been overly op­ti­mistic.” He said FPL was now telling him that power could not be re­stored to all schools this week.

The an­nounce­ment was greeted with re­lief by many teach­ers and par­ents.

“I think Mon­day is what most teach­ers had hoped for,” said Justin Katz, pres­i­dent of the county teach­ers union. “Other than the per­sonal rea­sons — hav­ing evac­u­ated and try­ing to travel back, home elec­tri­cal out­rages and po­ten­tial dam­age — the schools have to be fully op­er­a­tional be­fore teach­ers and stu­dents re­turn.”

Main­te­nance and cafe­te­ria work­ers have al­ready been sum­moned back to work. On Tues­day, the school dis­trict di­rected teach­ers to re­port to their schools on Mon­day morn­ing.

Mean­while, main­te­nance work­ers, re­pair crews and ad­min­is­tra­tors fanned out across the school dis­trict’s more than 180 cam­puses to deal with the storm-slammed fa­cil­i­ties.

While the school dis­trict re­ported no ma­jor struc­tural dam­age to its cam­puses, many took a beat­ing from the heavy winds and rains. Sev­eral schools ex­pe­ri­enced “sig­nif­i­cant leaks,” Avossa said, and fallen trees and tem­po­rary flood­ing ap­peared to be com­mon.

At Wat­son B. Dun­can Mid­dle School in Palm Beach Gar­dens, a large oak tree lay fallen across the school’s en­trance Tues­day morn­ing. The road to Waters Edge Ele­men­tary west of Boca Ra­ton was flooded mid­day Mon­day. Dur­ing the storm in Del­ray Beach, At­lantic High School’s court­yard filled with inches of rain, although school of­fi­cials said they had cleaned it up by Mon­day.

Welling­ton High School fared bet­ter than some, with a few damp ceil­ing tiles but lit­tle more be­sides fallen branches and dam­aged trees.

Tues­day morn­ing, Prin­ci­pal Mario Cro­cetti worked to ready the cam­pus along with a team of main­te­nance work­ers, saw­ing a dam­aged tree that par­tially blocked a school en­try­way.

He’d been through sim­i­lar rou­tines on school cam­puses af­ter three hur­ri­canes passed through the county in 2004 and 2005, but he said he hoped this would be his last. He plans to re­tire early next year.

“This is my last rodeo,” the vet­eran prin­ci­pal said.

Avossa said that the de­layed re­open­ing would not af­fect the Thank­giv­ing week hol­i­days, which are slated on the school cal­en­dar as po­ten­tial makeup days.

“I want to as­sure ev­ery­one that we will not take time from pre­vi­ously sched­uled hol­i­days, in­clud­ing our time at Thanks­giv­ing and Win­ter Break, to make up for th­ese days that have been missed,” he wrote.

While say­ing he hoped to re­open the county’s more than 180 pub­lic schools by Mon­day, he raised the pos­si­bil­ity that classes could be de­layed even longer if power is not re­stored in time.

“If the schools have the elec­tric­ity, we will be ready to greet ev­ery­one on Mon­day,” he wrote.

ALLEN EYESTONE / THE PALM BEACH POST

Welling­ton High School Prin­ci­pal Mario Cro­cetti re­moves a dam­aged tree Tues­day in the school park­ing lot. County schools are aim­ing to re­open Mon­day, Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Avossa said.

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