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September 27, 2004
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Governor Bush and Education Commissioner Winn Announce Plan to Re-open Escambia County Schools
Despite significant damage, with assistance from state, federal partners, private sector and community, students will be back in the classroom within two weeks
PENSACOLA Governor Jeb Bush today announced public schools in Escambia County, all of which suffered damage during Hurricane Ivan, will re-open no later than October 11, 2004. On a visit to Pensacola High School, Bush was welcomed by Principal Sara Lewis and joined by Education Commissioner John Winn; State Senators Charlie Clary and Durrell Peaden; State Representatives Holly Benson, Dave Murzin, and Ray Sansom; Escambia Public Schools Superintendent Jim Paul, Deputy Superintendent Norm Ross, and Assistant Superintendent for Facilities Shawn Dennis; Escambia School Board Chair Cary Stiedham; and President & CEO of Gulf Power Susan Story.
"This hurricane season has been a difficult one for all Floridians, but with each storm, we prove we do have the strength, the heart, and the resources to get through these challenges," said Governor Bush. "The efforts of this community to restore a sense of normalcy by getting students back in the classroom as quickly as possible are a perfect example of the courage that has and will continue to see us through."
Every school in Escambia County suffered some damage. District officials worked with the National Guard and private contractors to assess each site, placing schools into three damage categories: major, moderate, and minor (30, 17 and 25 schools respectively). Repairs necessary to get schools up and running within two weeks are under way. Portable classrooms have been ordered for the most damaged schools and district officials are working on plans for double sessions, as necessary, to keep as many students as possible at the schools they were attending before Hurricane Ivan.
"We understand the challenges posed by school closures during hurricane season and are sensitive to the difficulties many of our students and teachers face," said Commissioner Winn. "From local, state, and federal officials to National Guardsmen, power companies and volunteers, all involved in the recovery have done tremendous work on behalf of Florida's students."
Following Hurricane Ivan, Governor Bush signed an executive order similar to orders signed after Hurricanes Charley and Frances, granting the Department of Education (DOE) authority to waive certain rules. Districts that have missed more than five instructional days can apply for a waiver to reduce the 180-day attendance requirement. Such requests, along with each district's plan to make up as many instructional days as possible, will be reviewed by DOE on a case by case basis. DOE will also allow affected school districts more time to administer the FCAT based on the number of school days missed. Districts that missed 11 or more days will have two additional weeks to give the test.
"The outpouring of support over the last two weeks has been incredible," said Superintendent Paul. "We are grateful for the generosity of all of who have helped and are confident our students and teachers will emerge from this challenge with the hope and resolve needed to make our schools even better."
Escambia County Schools have partnered with the Pensacola News Journal to ensure parents and students have the resources they need while school is not in session. Starting today, the newspaper will print an insert with lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school students geared toward the Sunshine State Standards. The insert will allow parents and students to make the most of the next two weeks.
While Gulf Power is still working to restore power to 20 percent of Escambia County, educational facilities are high on the priority list. Power company officials are working directly with the school district to restore power to K-12 schools. They have pledged full restoration by October 4, providing school district officials enough time to conduct necessary safety inspections and repairs by the time schools re-open. The company has already restored full power to Pensacola Junior College and the University of West Florida.
With both Santa Rosa and Escambia re-opening on October 11, all students in counties affected by Hurricane Ivan will be back in the classroom within the next two weeks. Students will return to Pensacola Junior College on October 4. The University of West Florida will re-open October 4, with classes commencing October 5.
For more information on the 2004 hurricane season's impact on schools and Florida's plan to get schools up and running, please visit www.fldoe.org.