Florida Panhandle officials are trying to figure out how to resume classes after Hurricane Michael damaged or destroyed many schools last week.
Schools in at least eight counties – Washington, Liberty, Jackson, Gulf, Gadsden, Franklin, Calhoun and Bay – will remain closed until further notice, the office of Gov. Rick Scott said Monday in a news release.
The challenge is especially daunting in Bay County.
“I would say every single school in Bay County has some type of damage, some more extensive than others,” said Steve Moss, vice chairman of Bay District School Board. “Some it’ll probably take weeks or months to get online. Some it will take years.
“The only thing left of some of our schools … is the foundation.”
Moss said he and his colleagues are working to come up with a plan to get thousands of students back in the classroom as soon as possible.
“We basically have 26,000 students here in Bay County,” he said. “They still need educational services. They still need to learn.”
High school seniors have been told they will be able to graduate, Moss said. Younger students won’t be held back from the next grade.
“Now, to be able to do that, they have to been in a classroom setting,” according to state law, Moss said, with the wreckage of Jinks Middle School’s gymnasium in Panama City, Florida, behind him.
It was just renovated last month, with a new floor and lighting, Moss said. But now the gym’s interior is completely exposed to the elements and the floor is littered with debris.
Bay County’s school officials are holding a meeting Monday morning to discuss how to get students back in classrooms, Moss said.
Reopening schools is more ‘critical’ than some think
Craig Fugate, a former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, stressed the importance of getting schools up and running after a storm.
“Getting schools open … is far more critical than most people realize,” he said in an interview with CNN last year.
When kids can’t go to school, some parents have to stay home and can’t work. And for some low-income families, school is where kids get nutritious meals.