Schools in at least 11 counties are facing problems reopening following Hurricane Charley. In hard hit Charlotte County, only four of 20 schools escaped significant damage, and the system needs to be literally rebuilt from the ground up. Plans are still in the works to get the school year off and running.
This school year will be anything but normal for tens of thousands of students.
Damages to Florida schools are still being assessed. In Charlotte County, only four of 20 schools may be operational. Eleven other counties face problems.
Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings says the first thing the state has done is remove registration requirements so students from damaged areas can attend classes elsewhere.
“We are going to make sure that’s facilitated, especially people who have been dislocated for some period of time, may have family in another county and we are going to make sure that those children are able to go back to school."
The state is looking for alternative space, including renting office space or calling on the Florida National Guard to help fast track some construction.
Jim Horne is the state’s Education Commissioner and says, “The smaller rural counties lost a lot of portables. Of course, we are trying to look at in how much inventory we can put in place there. Polk County has really taken a pretty good hit from the storm."
In the past week the state has identified 150 brand new portable classrooms that are in the state but have not yet been set up. The state says those will be moved to the affected areas.
Education Commissioner Jim Horne says officials face monumental tasks that include planning new transportation routes and replacing water damaged text books.
"These students may have to travel a little further to go to school now than before, but to me my window is two weeks we have got to be up and going in two weeks."
The target for getting Charlotte County back in the classroom is August 31st. What is clear is that the 2004 school year will be far from normal for many students.
A team of 25 grief counselors has been assembled to help kids cope once they return to school.
The Florida School Boards Association estimates Charley did more than $100 million in damage to schools across the state.