Hurricane Irma: PBC public schools will be closed all week

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 work force.

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 in a statement. “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 experience “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 re-opening 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.

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