Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Rickards students move to Broward College

- By Scott Travis

A roof collapse will keep James S. Rickards Middle in Fort Lauderdale closed for the foreseeabl­e future, and students will finish the school year at Broward College in Coconut Creek.

The college is about seven miles or 18 minutes northeast of Rickards. Students have been learning remotely since a March 5 roof failure in the media center, which traumatize­d students and staff but left no one seriously injured.

About 250 of the school’s 942 are expected to attend the college location starting Wednesday. The rest were learning remotely even before the collapse due to concerns related to COVID-19. District officials said the college can accommodat­e up to 400 and possibly more if there’s demand.

Broward College won’t charge rent, but will require the school district to pay about $39,000 for the rest of the school year for operation costs, such as utility, maintenanc­e and security, under an agreement the School Board approved Tuesday.

It’s unclear whether students will even be able to return in the fall. Superinten­dent Robert Runcie said the district is waiting for the results of an engineerin­g review to determine the next steps.

Muriel Theophin-Atilus, who has a daughter at the school, said she has mixed feelings, given the new location isn’t near Rickards, and she’s not sure how well the college can fully accommodat­e a middle school.

“There are questions I have but at the same time, I’m happy there will be face-to-face. But this just won’t be the same,” the mother


One concern is whether there will be enough to classes for all students. District officials said some teachers will have to share classrooms.

Board member Debra Hixon asked why students couldn’t attend a closer school to the north as Northeast High in Oakland Park, which is walking distance from Rickards. Only about 40% of Northeast students are on campus, with the rest learning remotely.

“Using one of our own buildings would be a little less stressful for staff and students,” Hixon said.

District administra­tor

Valerie Wanza said Northeast initially had identified 10 portables Rickards could use, but later realized they’d be needed as constructi­on is requiring students to shuffle to different parts of campus.

Wanza said there were also no other schools in the immediate area that had enough space to accommodat­e all Rickards students, and still maintain space for social distancing and upcoming state testing.

Superinten­dent Robert Runcie said he then asked Broward College President Gregory Haile for help.

“When I called him, he did not hesitate to be accommodat­ing,” Runcie said.

The district has also temporaril­y closed four schools with an identical design as Rickards to

conduct an inspection­s. Students at Lauderhill 6-12, Lauderdale Lakes Middle, Planatatin Middle and Apollo Middle in Hollywood are all learning remotely right now. Testing scheduled for this week has been postponed.

District administra­tors say they plan to meet with principals Wednesday to come with plans for students to return. Apollo has a building that’s not adjacent to the area of concern, while several of the other schools have portables on campus that can be used, officials said.

“What will need to be done to put students back at those schools will be much quicker than at Rickards,” said Jeff Moquin, Runcie’s chief of staff.

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