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August 20, 2004
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Governor Bush Announces Plan to Re-open Public Schools Affected by Hurricane
Charley in Record Time
Executive Order directs DOE to serve as resource for affected schools and community colleges, letter urges colleges and universities to provide waivers to National Guardsmen
PUNTA GORDA Governor Jeb Bush today announced public schools in counties devastated by Hurricane Charley will re-open in record time, thanks to the efforts of communities and educators across the state, and aid from state and federal governments, and other school districts. While visiting schools in Charlotte, Hardee and Osceola counties, Bush unveiled the state's plan to get schools up and running in the next 14 days. He was joined by Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response Michael Brown, incoming Education Commissioner John Winn and other officials.
"I appreciate the efforts of all who have worked so hard to provide Florida's students with a sense of normalcy and a safe place to learn in the wake of Hurricane Charley," said Governor Bush. "Even in difficult times, education must remain a priority."
Hurricane Charley caused far more damage to schools than did Hurricane Andrew, with seven Charlotte County schools completely destroyed and serious damage to schools in at least three other counties. Yet, Florida students will return to school faster than they did following the 1992 disaster. The Florida Department of Education (DOE) has worked in concert with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which will cover the majority of uninsured losses suffered by schools.
"FEMA currently has damage assessment teams in the field surveying all public facilities, including schools, impacted by Hurricane Charley," said Michael Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response. "We'll continue to work with Governor Bush and local education officials to ensure that these schools reopen quickly as another way that the federal government is helping Florida's communities' recovery."
DOE worked with local officials to identify the immediate needs of affected schools. The state, with assistance from FEMA, will help affected school districts obtain the following:
- Portable classrooms for students whose schools were destroyed;
- School buses to replace damaged buses and transport children to available classrooms;
- Books and other instructional materials to replace those damaged; and
- Furnishings and computers for new classrooms.
"Having taught at the elementary, middle school, and community college level, I can appreciate the challenges educators in the affected areas are facing," said John Winn, incoming Education Commissioner. "I pledge to do all I can to help educators, parents, and students transition through this difficult time."
"The outpouring of support from fellow school districts, the community, and people across the country has been incredible," said Charlotte County Schools Superintendent Dr. David Gayler. "The steps taken by the state in conjunction with federal support and local efforts will allow us to give our community a sense of normalcy by bringing our children back to school."
Governor Bush today signed an executive order allowing for waivers of certain requirements, which will allow affected school districts to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Charley and provide immediate services to students. Possible waivers include:
- Accountability requirements under the class size amendment;
- Flexibility with regard to minimum 180-day attendance;
- Extension on provision of documentation for pre-enrollment requirements, such as immunizations;
- Collective bargaining requirements for teachers;
- Eligibility requirements for scholarship students;
- Teacher certification requirements;
- Facilities specification requirements;
- Extensions for reports due to the Department of Education;
- Mandatory calendar for Community Colleges;
- Extension on initial tuition payment for college students;
- Other waivers requested by school districts over the next 60 days.
In addition, the Governor directed DOE to work closely with affected school districts to seek waivers from the federal government where necessary. Bush also sent a letter to community college and university presidents urging them to adhere to waivers available to members of the National Guard enrolled in postsecondary education who have been called up to duty.
According to a survey conducted by DOE, of the 25 school districts affected by Hurricane Charley, six including Charlotte will need portable classrooms to re-open schools within the next two weeks. DOE has located in excess of 200 portables that are ready for delivery, which will more than cover the current statewide need of 93.
Charlotte and other affected counties will also need 72 school buses to meet their transportation needs. DOE has located more than 250 school buses that are ready for immediate delivery. In addition, DOE is working with the Florida School Book Depository and various publishers to help Charlotte meet the instructional materials needs of approximately 7,500 displaced students. One publisher, Scholastic Inc., has agreed to donate 10,000 books to students in the affected areas.
For more information on Hurricane Charley's impact on schools, community colleges, and universities, and Florida's plan to get schools up and running, please visit www.fldoe.org.