Monday, February 19, 2018
Education

Tampa Bay's public schools and colleges will be open Tuesday

With the threat of Tropical Storm Isaac past, public schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando plan to reopen today. Canceling school shouldn't mean having to hold a makeup day at the end of the year, since district calendars have some flexibility.

All four districts made the call on Sunday to close Monday, citing rapidly changing weather reports. Many — but not all — of the area's colleges and universities did the same.

"It was decided it would be best to err on the side of caution," said Melanie Marquez, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County School District.

School buses can't be on the road in winds above 35 mph, and the counties sometimes open public schools as storm shelters. In Hillsborough County, Greco Middle School, Middleton High School, Shields Middle School and Smith Middle School were used as shelters.

That makes the decision easier, said Stephen Hegarty, a district spokesman.

"We don't want to have some schools open and others closed," he said.

Lara Wade-Martinez, a spokeswoman for the University of South Florida, said the decision to close was a tough call, since Monday was the first day of classes. At one point, she said university officials thought to keep the Tampa campus open. But when Gov. Rick Scott urged people to stay off the bridges, it seemed safest to be cautious.

"It's been a little wild," she said of the myriad storm updates.

USF campuses will be open today.

Hillsborough Community College made the call to close early Monday morning. College officials had planned to stay open, but road closures and flooding became a concern.

"Once accessibility was really a concern, we made the decision to close," said Ashley Carl, a spokeswoman.

At St. Petersburg College, the decision to open Monday was made after the 5 p.m. weather update Sunday, when "it was clear that the storm was moving farther away," said Wilma Norton, a spokeswoman.

The college "took some heat" for staying open, Norton said. But college officials didn't want to interrupt class in the second week of school, if it could be avoided, she said.

In Hernando County, superintendent Bryan Blavatt said he wouldn't have canceled school if he knew how mild Monday's weather would be.

But the decision was based on the "best information" at the time, he said.

"We figured it would be better to err on the side of being too cautious rather than getting students caught in the storm.''

In Pasco, school officials said they wanted to give parents time to make care arrangements.

But the district likely could have opened Monday, given the mild weather, said spokeswoman Summer Robertson.

Still, she said, "Better safe than sorry.''

Staff writers Jeffrey S. Solochek, Marlene Sokol and Danny Valentine contributed. Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at [email protected], (727) 893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

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