Hurricane Irma: PBC public schools will be closed through Wednesday

Palm Beach County’s public schools will remain closed at least through Wednesday as utility workers rush to restore power and educators repair “significant damage” at campuses across the county.

More than 130 schools were without power one day after Hurricane Irma mowed through the region, and the air-conditioning systems at about three dozen other campuses were not functioning properly, Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said.

Several schools endured “significant leaks” during the storm, and a fallen tree damaged the roof at West Tech Academy in Belle Glade.

Schools will remain closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Avossa said he hoped to be able to resume classes on Thursday.

But he acknowledged that the canceled classes could extend further into the week. The biggest factor, Avossa said, is how quickly Florida Power & Light Co. can restore power, something that he said FPL considers “a top priority.”

“Their goal is to get the electricity fixed by Wednesday,” Avossa said at a news conference Monday afternoon, “but whether or not they can meet that goal only time will tell.”

“Our primary issue now is an electricity issue,” he added. “We’re hoping right now we can start on Thursday.”

After a cursory examination of all of the school district’s campuses, Avossa said there no reports of major structural damage.

Food supplies were lost at two schools — Elbridge Gale Elementary in Wellington and Grove Park Elementary in Palm Beach Gardens — when backup generators failed to kick in after the schools lost power, said Amity Schuyler, the school district’s chief communications officer.

Avossa said that if the schools reopen this week, he does not expect they will have to schedule any makeup days to recover the lost time.

Essential school employees, including maintenance and cafeteria workers, are being asked to report to their schools Tuesday.

As schools gear up for the return of students, Avossa said he was concerned about how quickly the school district’s 12,000 teachers would be able to return, given that many evacuated to other states ahead of the storm.

“I’m asking principals to email staff and find out how many are out of state,” he said.

The school district is also working to clean up at the more than a dozen schools that serves as storm shelters this weekend. In all, nearly 17,000 people sought refuge in the shelters, which were staffed by principals, teachers, cafeteria workers, school district police officers, county government officials and Red Cross volunteers.

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