Dalton: Schools need options after disaster

Published 1:04 am Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton (center) visited the Beaufort County Ed Tech Center as part of his tour of damaged county schools Wednesday. Dalton surveyed the damage with Principal Will Bryant (left) and Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps. (WDN Photo/Betty Mitchell Gray)

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton said state school leaders should be willing to give local school systems options during the current school year to help them cope with schedule disruptions in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

Dalton, who serves as a member of the state Board of Education in his role as the state’s lieutenant governor, said the state board should be willing to grant affected school systems waivers from state-mandated calendar requirements.

“I would not foresee any problem with school systems receiving waivers,” he said in an interview Wednesday with the Daily News during his visit to three of Beaufort County’s public schools that received significant damage during Hurricane Irene as part of a tour of damage along the coast.

Accompanied by his wife, Lucille, Dalton made an aerial survey of damage at Hatteras and Ocracoke before making stops at Chocowinity Middle School, Beaufort County Ed Tech Center and Bath Elementary School to survey damage.

At Chocowinity Middle School, Dalton saw the damaged gymnasium roof and floor that is buckling by as much as 1 foot in places because of water damage. At the Ed Tech Center, he saw roof damage to one instructional building and water damage to classroom floors. At Bath Elementary School, he saw roof damage to the school’s gymnasium and the building’s new brick siding.

He predicted more damage would appear over time.

“This was a storm with significant consequences,” he said.

F. Mac Hodges, chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Education and Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps escorted Dalton on his tour.

Hodges said he is pleased that Dalton would take time to visit the county.

“It just shows the urgency of the needs of our school system,” Hodges said.

Phipps agreed.

“The fact that he took time out of his schedule means a lot,” he said.

Phipps hopes the local school system would not need to seek a waiver from state school-scheduling requirements.

“I think we have enough wiggle room in the calendar,” he said.

Phipps said his first priority would be to protect instructional days.

“We feel like we’ve got enough time ahead of us to find five days to make up,” he said. “But the hurricane is going to change the calendar.”

Students attended school for only two days before Hurricane Irene disrupted the 2011-2012 school year.

Although power had not yet been restored at two of the county’s public schools as of Wednesday afternoon, school officials had scheduled teacher workdays for today and Friday, with the goal of returning students to the classroom Tuesday.

“Our tentative plan is to resume classes on Tuesday, Sept. 6, if conditions permit,” said Sarah Hodges, public information officer for Beaufort County Schools. “Make-up days have not been scheduled at this time. Parents and the public will be made aware as soon as a schedule is finalized.”