SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — As maintenance teams continue to work around the clock to repair major damage and restore power to Sarasota County schools, district leaders are making a plan to bring students back to the classroom.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Superintendent Brennan Asplen announced that the district has a phased reopening plan in place.
This means that some students will head back to school before others who are located in areas hit harder by Hurricane Ian.
Asplen said north Sarasota County schools, located north of Taylor Ranch Elementary School, will aim to reopen on Monday, Oct. 10. South County schools will take at least another week to reopen, according to the superintendent.
This announcement comes as two Sarasota County schools are still serving as shelters — Venice High School as a general population shelter and Tatum Ridge Elementary School as a shelter for medically dependent guests. Both are set to close at the end of the day Friday.
Asplen said that every school in the district faced some degree of water intrusion and damage from Hurricane Ian. He added that power is still out in four schools, Southside Elementary, Lamarque Elementary, Toledo Blade Elementary and Glenallen Elementary.
"We have had facility management and maintenance teams in our facilities since Friday, Sept. 30, assessing, cleaning and repairing damages. These would include water extraction, generator and electric repair, debris removal, sewer and plumbing problems, and roof repairs," Asplen said.
The superintendent explained that some traffic signals are still out around the county, creating unsafe conditions for school buses. To ensure safety before students return to school, the district is planning to do a dry run of 300 bus routes this week.
When students do make it back to the classroom, Assistant Superintendent Jody Dumas said they can expect some changes. He explained that administrators may not be able to open every part of the campus, so classes may have to temporarily shift to other school buildings. Dumas said safety is the priority as the district brings students back to campus. Staff is being especially cautious in evaluating the threat of mold.
"When you have water intrusion and no AC for a few days, that becomes a concern, so any place we have concern, we’re cutting dry wall out, cutting carpet," said Dumas.
The district is posting updates on social media channels and their website with opening information, donation locations, and other resources for students and family.
In addition to supporting people staying at the shelters, the district is working to support teachers and staff affected by Hurricane Ian.
Earlier on Tuesday, the school board unanimously passed a resolution to allow the district to spend money as needed for storm recovery efforts. The money will be refunded by FEMA.
The Education Foundation of Sarasota County has also established a Hurricane Ian Disaster Relief & Recovery Fund to accept monetary donations for schools and staff. Donations can be made here.