FLA. SCHOOLS START OVER

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MIKE SCHNEI­DER As­so­ci­ated Press

Stu­dents in Florida hit by Hur­ri­cane Michael have re­turned to school while deal­ing with big classes and miss­ing friends.

OR­LANDO, FLA.

Since stu­dents in the Florida Pan­han­dle county hard­est hit by Hur­ri­cane Michael re­turned to class­rooms in early Novem­ber, they’ve dealt with power out­ages, spo­radic in­ter­net, miss­ing friends, larger classes and shared build­ings.

Stu­dents dis­placed from heav­ily dam­aged Bay County schools have moved into less-dam­aged schools, where one school holds classes in the morn­ing and the other school has classes in the af­ter­noon.

Teach­ers have strug­gled with how much home­work to give stu­dents when they didn’t have in­ter­net at home.

The district dropped its dress code be­cause some stu­dents and staff lost their clothes to the Oct. 10 hur­ri­cane and wore do­nated cloth­ing.

“You can see the staff; they’re tak­ing it one day at a time. They say they’re OK, but I don’t know if they’re OK. They’re putting on a smile and a brave face for the kids,” said JoBeth Davis, a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teacher at Deer Point Ele­men­tary School in Panama City.

For fourth-grader Gavin Polenz, the hard­est part of re­turn­ing to school has been the piles of de­bris. Gavin uses a wheel­chair be­cause of cere­bral palsy, and the de­bris on Panama City streets made get­ting to his new bus stop two blocks away dif­fi­cult. His par­ents, Am­ber and Josh, worry that the de­bris made it hard for cars to see him.

Gavin is at a new school, but he has the same teacher and many for­mer class­mates, which he found re­as­sur­ing. Dur­ing the first week of classes in early Novem­ber, they made bracelets, col­ored and talked about the hur­ri­cane, not the usual class ac­tiv­i­ties.

“We were try­ing to get used to be­ing at school,” Gavin said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “It felt good to talk about it.”

District of­fi­cials are try­ing to fig­ure out how many stu­dents they have. Two district ad­min­is­tra­tors are de­vot­ing their time to track­ing down stu­dents to fig­ure out whether they’ve moved away.

A lit­tle more than 29,000 stu­dents across the district were en­rolled in schools on the last day of classes be­fore Hur­ri­cane Michael hit the Pan­han­dle with winds top­ping out at 155 mph. En­roll­ment had dropped by more than 2,600 stu­dents, al­most 9 per­cent, dis­trictwide by the Fri­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing.

Teach­ers and staffers with dam­aged homes are deal­ing with in­sur­ance ad­justers, roofers and con­trac­tors but can’t take calls while they’re in class­rooms. Many teach­ers who lost their homes are liv­ing with friends or fam­ily, or driv­ing two hours to work from where they found new hous­ing.

“Many of our teach­ers were and are still home­less,” said Sharon Micha­lik, Bay District School’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “It’s a chal­lenge for them to put their needs on hold to be with their stu­dents. We think that’s su­per­hu­man of them.”

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