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Schools out for weather, again

Blame it on Mother Nature and her windy offspring, Jeanne. Or overworked electric workers. Or worried school officials.

Whoever is responsible, the decision remains: Hillsborough County public schools will be closed again today for the sixth hurricane day off this year.

As working parents struggled to find last-minute day care and fretted over lost learning time, school officials said they felt they had no choice.

"We just don't think it's safe out there yet," said school spokesman Mark Hart. "Forty-one schools still don't have any power.

"In the meantime, there are many traffic signals that are out. Trees are down all over. There are roadway hazards . . ."

Hart said administrators hope to resume classes Wednesday.

The best-case scenario is that all schools will open.

But if outages, debris and storm damage make that impossible, he said, only those that have power and are deemed safe will open their doors.

Following Sunday's stormy weather, administrators canceled all classes Monday and were hoping to reopen today.

But by 4:15 p.m. Monday, the word from the power company was not what they wanted to hear.

About one-fourth of the district's schools still had outages.

Some schools had electricity but no air conditioning; others had no phone service.

At others, downed trees littered parent pickup areas and limbs were strewn across student bike racks.

Hart said Tampa Electric made restoring power to schools a priority, but by late Monday afternoon, they could not guarantee that all schools would have power by this morning. Officials wanted to give parents ample notice.

The decision was a difficult one, Hart said.

School officials don't want students to lose any more days.

In the past six weeks, most of Hillsborough's 188,000 students have missed six days for Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

Students at 15 schools missed an extra day because of power outages from Frances.

The 2004-2005 school year is not even 2 months old.

Most of the 41 schools that have outages from Jeanne are in the Plant City, Brandon and Valrico areas.

Hart said no schools suffered serious structural damage, though some had roof leaks.

Hillsborough school officials are already discussing make-up days, even though they have asked Gov. Jeb Bush to exempt four missed days.

That's because Hillsborough's school calendar has 184 days, four more days than the state-required 180 school days.

Before Jeanne's arrival, Bush was encouraging school districts that have canceled up to five days of school to make them up sometime during the year.

Only districts that have canceled six or more days can apply for a waiver from the 180-day rule from the Department of Education.

Regardless, Hillsborough was moving ahead this week.

"Clearly we're going to have to make up some days," Hart said. "It's just a question of the least inconvenient way."

What days and how many of them will be determined in the next couple of weeks after administrators meet with school employee unions.

Hart predicted a minimum of three makeup days, which could take place on teacher planning days, holidays or during winter break.

Melanie Ave can be reached at melaniesptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

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