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Storm may close schools yet again

Call the day care just in case. Get the babysitter lined up. Ask grandma if she can help out. And if all that fails, prepare to miss another day of work.

Hillsborough school district officials said Friday that the threat of Hurricane Jeanne, which could strike somewhere along Florida's Atlantic coast, might force them to close local schools yet again _ this time to shelter evacuees from the other side of the state.

"We know everyone's getting storm weary," said school district spokesman Mark Hart. "But we have to remember those schools aren't just for sheltering Hillsborough residents. They're for anyone that needs them in an emergency like this."

Residents of coastal Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, hit hard by Hurricane Frances earlier this month, are already under a voluntary evacuation order.

If local schools do close Monday, it will be the fifth day that most Hillsborough students have stayed home because of the recent onslaught of tropical weather. It will be the sixth day missed by students in 15 schools. Those students missed an extra day while power was restored to their classrooms in Frances' wake.

In a letter sent home to parents Friday, district officials said superintendent Earl Lennard will decide over the weekend whether to close all public schools Monday.

Hart said the decision will be based on the most current information available from the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center, whose leaders met Friday afternoon in what has become a ritual of storm preparation.

In the letter, parents are urged to monitor local media outlets today and Sunday for information about school closings. The most recent hurricane, Ivan, was initially such a threat to the Tampa Bay area that district officials decided on a Friday to close schools the following Monday.

Hart said the district had been prepared to open 39 schools as shelters because of Ivan. The storm ended up slowing down and then turning, sparing the Tampa Bay area but keeping students out of school through Tuesday when it became clear Ivan was on track to hit the Panhandle.

Hart said the district is able to hold off on a final decision to close campuses this time because Jeanne doesn't appear to be a direct threat, at least for now.

"Stay tuned," Hart said. "That would be our best advice for parents."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or