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Schools' efforts keep kids safe, dry

Hurricane Ivan was 350 miles from south Pinellas and heading farther away when local officials faced a weird dilemma. School was in session Wednesday, but a rising tide threatened to cut some students off from their low-lying homes.

Midafternoon flooding in Coquina Key, Shore Acres and some areas of Madeira Beach kept school officials glued to weather channels and forced some to concoct backup plans to ensure students would arrive home safely.

The greatest concern was for children who live in the Shore Acres area, where police set up roadblocks to prevent residents from driving into water up to 2 feet deep. Shore Acres Elementary principal Tim Owens allowed children to leave 10 minutes before the school's regular 1:45 p.m. dismissal time when he saw anxious parents lining up in the car circle. Most of the 150 children who live in Shore Acres were home before the streets became impassable, Owens said.

The school itself, on 62nd Avenue NE, had no flood damage, thanks to a recent $13.7-million reconstruction project.

The threat of rising water was more of an issue at North Shore Elementary where school lets out at 2:40 p.m. The school, at 35th Avenue NE, experienced no flooding, but about a dozen of its 550 children live in Shore Acres, said principal Juanita Deason.

Deason called campus police when she heard about the roadblocks to make sure the bus that transports children to Shore Acres would be able to get through.

"I gave my phone number to the bus driver," she said. "Once she got to the stop, she called me to let me know the children had gotten there safely."

Personnel at Riviera Middle School began calling parents when they realized buses that were dropping off elementary school children were delayed and might not get to the school in time for the regular 4:05 p.m. dismissal.

Bus holdups caused no problems at Meadowlawn Middle School, where about 40 students live in areas affected by flooding.

Transportation director Terry Palmer said this was not the first time his office has had to make alternate arrangements for children who live in low-lying areas. He began monitoring the tide situation early Wednesday and worked through area superintendents to keep schools informed of the buses' whereabouts.

Palmer advised middle schools there could be some delays and suggested that principals whose children live in Coquina Key, Shore Acres or Madeira Beach call parents to pick up their children.

Officials at Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School, a private school on Chancellor Street NE in Shore Acres, made a decision early in the afternoon to give parents the option of picking up their children before the regular dismissal time. By the time police sealed access to Shore Acres, only 40 elementary and middle school children and 20 preschool children were still on campus. "We actually had a lot of fun," Carlson said. "We played games out on the patio. The kids studied and did their homework. A couple of our teachers waded through the water and brought pizza back. When their parents started showing up, the kids didn't want to leave."

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