No decision yet on when to reopen classes as dozens of schools remain without power

With dozens of schools across South Florida still unable to open, Miami-Dade and Broward County schools have yet to make a decision on when to reopen classes and are discussing the possibility of temporarily relocating some students to cleared campuses.

The school districts, which serve more than 700,00 students combined, hope to announce that classes will resume Monday for the first time since Sept. 6, when Hurricane Irma forced students home for an unscheduled vacation.

But as of Friday evening, while many private schools, universities and the Palm Beach County school district had already announced the resumption of class, neither superintendent Alberto Carvalho nor Robert Runcie was ready to give the all-clear that buses would run and bells would ring come Monday morning.

Dozens of schools remained without power, and dozens more were inaccessible due to downed trees and storm debris.

“I know that people are anxious to know. Parents are anxious. Students are anxious. But we want to provide the most substantive update that we can, when we’re able,” said Tracy Clark, a spokeswoman with Broward County Public Schools, where about 12 percent of schools were still without power Friday night. “We would like to open all our schools. That’s the goal. I think we’ll have to make decisions based on the information we have effective tomorrow morning.”

In Miami-Dade, where bus drivers will begin running routes Saturday in order to determine whether they have inoperable traffic lights or other road hazards, about 100 schools are still out of commission. An announcement on when classes will return is expected late Saturday or early Sunday morning.

It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Both districts say they’re considering a number of options in order to get classes going again, including the possibility of temporarily transferring students at schools without power to functioning campuses.

“Our top priorities are preparing all schools to welcome students and staff back to a safe and comfortable teaching and learning environment, while at the same time ensuring that everyone has adequate information and time to plan for their first day back to school,” said spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego.

Getting schools back on-line is in some ways out of the district’s hands, Gonzalez-Diego said. Though crews are working to clear campuses of debris, at least 40 were without power Friday and waiting for Florida Power & Light and Homestead Utilities to fix the problem. She said FPL told the district it would have schools running by the end of the night, but schools in Homestead could be without power until Sunday.

Staff at some schools are still trying to return to South Florida after evacuating ahead of the storm.

Meanwhile, some of South Florida’s charter schools are having to make similar decisions, having sustained damage during the storm. There is good news, however, for students at Keys Gate Charter High School. Initially thought to have lost its roof, damage at the school wasn’t nearly as bad as initially thought, according to a spokeswoman for Charter Schools USA, which manages the school.

“Everybody is hoping to open but power is the biggest thing right now for these schools,” said Lynn Norman-Teck, a spokeswoman for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.

Reopening schools is a huge step toward returning to life as normal in South Florida, which has been slowly regaining power, a gasoline supply, ice and comfort in the wake of the worst storm to hit the region in more than a decade. Many are returning to work Monday, if that hasn’t happened already, and need to figure out what to do with their children if they won’t be attending class.

“It’s very confusing for the kids and it has had a ripple effect on us,” Lissette Yahia, whose daughter attends a primary school that follows the Miami-Dade district schedule and son attends the Bob Graham Education Center. “I’ve had to work from home this entire week and I’m grateful to have an understanding employer that allows it. I’ve had to coordinate with my ex husband and ping pong the kids between our two homes to accommodate this depending on who is available, and it further upsets their routine. If we had a date certain it would help but yes we want them to be safe not fast.”

Students and teachers, meanwhile, have benchmarks to hit and tests to prepare for. Principals, some of whom ran emergency storm shelters at their schools, are trying to get their campuses back to normal. Others are providing hot meals to families without power.

But some schools sustained damage during the storm. And all schools must be inspected before they’re cleared for classes — a process that can’t be fully completed until power returns. Clark noted that the decision to open schools doesn’t just hinge on the state of the schools themselves, but also on the routes to and from class given how many buses and bicycles are on the road each morning and afternoon.

“The main thing is the restoration of power, but we still have to make sure everything is safe,” she said.

For updates on when school will resume, parents can call the Miami-Dade Schools hotline at 305-995-3000, or Broward Schools at 754-321-0321.