Schools remain closed

Published 1:01 am Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beaufort County’s public-school students won’t return to the classroom before Tuesday, Beaufort County Schools officials said.

Those officials hold out hope that most faculty members will return for two teacher workdays Thursday and Friday.

“There is so much disruption in people’s lives right now,” said BCS Superintendent Don Phipps during a meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Education on Tuesday. “There are still a lot of people without power and water.”

The meeting had been scheduled to review the results of the latest round of standardized tests, but the board discussed damage to schools sustained during Hurricane Irene.

“Even if you open the schools before then, you’re not going to have a lot of people there,” said board member Terry Williams.

BCS hopes to receive a waiver from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction that will exempt students from having to make up days lost to the hurricane, Phipps said.

“But there’s no guarantee we can get that,” he said.

Power had not yet been restored to three schools south of the Pamlico River, where damage from Hurricane Irene was among the worst in the county — S.W. Snowden Elementary School and the Chocowinity schools — at the time of the meeting. They are expected to have power restored by today, Phipps said.

On Tuesday, Washington High School continued to be used as a shelter for emergency workers and people displaced by the hurricane, Phipps said.

School officials don’t know the monetary value of the damages to the county’s public schools, but most of the system’s 14 buildings suffered some type of structural damage, the board was told.

Bath Elementary, Chocowinity Middle and S.W. Snowden Elementary schools and the Ed Tech Center sustained damage that is considered “major,” according to Patrick Abele, executive director for learning services for Beaufort County Schools.

Unlike some school systems in eastern North Carolina that lost large numbers of textbooks because of water damage, Beaufort County’s school leaders predicted that damage to textbooks, equipment and supplies here will be “minimal.”

School leaders began a review of damage caused by the hurricane Sunday as soon as it was safe to do so. That review and subsequent damage assessments showed some damage as a result of wind-driven rain at most of the county’s schools. They won’t know the full extent of this damage until the areas that had been covered with water are dried, board members were told.

Bath Elementary and Chocowinity Middle School and the Ed Tech Center had “significant” damage to roofs, but only the Ed Tech Center sustained significant damage to an instructional building.

Classes at the Ed Tech Center can be shifted to another building on the school’s campus, Phipps said.

S.W. Snowden Elementary School was the only school in the county to be damaged by rising water. School officials estimated floodwaters reached as high as 1 to 3 feet deep outside the building housing the school’s cafeteria and art room and at least 6 inches deep inside the building.

School leaders anticipate losing all food stored in cafeterias because of power outages. If health officials deemed the contents of freezers and refrigerators to be safe, board members agreed it would be best to dispose of those contents.

“The cost of a little food is nothing compared to the cost of giving someone food poisoning,” said board member Robert Belcher.

The majority of structural damage and losses suffered by school systems is covered by insurance through the N.C. Public School Insurance Fund, less a $5,000 deductible, board members were told.

Temporary repairs to the buildings to prevent additional damage are under way. Permanent repairs come later.

To speed temporary repairs, the board voted to suspend bid requirements at the discretion of the school superintendent.