Hurricane Ian: Florida Schools Close Indefinitely in Wake of Devastating Storm

by Alex Falls
Win McNamee / Staff / Getty

Florida communities continue to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian’s devastating impact. Students hoping to return to normal life though are in for a long wait for normal to return. Many schools throughout the state will be shuttered indefinitely as clean-up efforts intensify.

The school district in southwest Florida educates more than 90,000 students from Kindergarten through 12th grade. It’s also where Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds and deadly storm surge that leveled the whole region.

As rescue and recovery operations continue in the storm’s aftermath, several school systems in the hardest hit counties of southwestern Florida can’t determine when they’ll reopen. Some schools are without power and still assessing the damage. Not to mention the impact on staff members who may have lost homes or can’t return to work.

Shuttered schools can worsen the hurricane’s disruption for children. Recovery from natural disasters elsewhere suggests the effects on kids can be lasting, particularly in low-income communities that have a harder time bouncing back.

“In a week or two, we’ll have forgotten about Hurricane Ian. But these districts and schools and students will be struggling months and years later,” Cassandra R. Davis, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, said in a statement.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Christopher Bernier told FOX Weather on Tuesday that the school district and emergency managers will gather next week and provide a recommendation of when schools should reopen.

“This is an area that took a great impact from Ian,” Bernier said. “I would say all of our buildings were impacted at some level, some more significantly than others.”

School Officials Look to Rebound After Hurricane Ian

Since Ian, education leaders have been checking in with students and school staff. Many of whom lost everything in the storm. Bernier said he recently spoke to some students living in shelters after Hurricane Ian. 

“We’re working to find opportunities and places for those young people to stay together as a learning community and begin the process of their education, but those plans are still underway,” Bernier said.

Currently throughout Florida, 68 of 75 school districts are open for in-person instruction. Two more districts are expected to reopen this week, the state Department of Education said Tuesday.

According to Bernier, students are being contacted by their school principals, who are working down class lists. Soon the district plans to send out a survey to help better understand their student’s needs after the storm. Since internet and cellphone service outages are still an issue throughout Lee County, the school district will partner with the 2-1-1 United Way hotline to ensure all student families can complete the survey.

Sarasota County school officials say they hope to reopen schools for some of their 45,000 students on Monday. School leaders are aiming to reopen buildings in the northern part of the county which suffered less damage compared to the schools. In the meantime, displaced students can use online resources students if they have access to the internet.