For most Tampa Bay area residents, Hurricane Idalia passed without making much of an impact.
So the question seemed obvious to many parents in the region: Would schools really reopen Thursday? Districts indicated as much when they announced closures in advance of the storm?
The answer, however, is not so simple.
As the noon hour came and went, representatives of the Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas county school districts indicated it would be late afternoon before they would make a final decision on their Thursday plans.
“A lot of factors are being weighed,” Pinellas spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas said.
Chief among them was the looming midday high tide, which threatened to push coastal flooding in areas such as Tarpon Springs, South Tampa and Hudson even further into neighborhoods.
Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning said he did not want to send maintenance crews out to schools until after the extent of the flooding could be known, so they wouldn’t make assessments based on incomplete information.
As long as the flooding continued, county emergency management teams did not release the schools from their use as shelters. Hillsborough and Pinellas each had 10 schools in play, and Pasco had six.
In addition, county officials in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando still had not rescinded all evacuation orders, leaving thousand of families technically barred from returning home.
“We don’t make that decision alone,” Mascareñas said.
If the schools are still needed as shelters, they cannot be used for classes. If the evacuation orders are rescinded and residents can return home, the schools still must be cleaned and also reviewed for any damages they may have suffered, noted Tanya Arja, spokesperson for Hillsborough County Public Schools.
Though it might seem easier to cancel classes for another day, Arja said, other considerations also come into play.
The state still requires schools to provide a minimum amount of instruction time per semester, she noted, and districts try to do so without asking students to come to school on days that have been scheduled off. Also, she added, if parents are called back to work, many do not have alternate plans for their children.
Browning said he had been contacting superintendents throughout the area to see what they planned to do, and he found no consensus yet. He expected them to consult again, and for some answers to be coming as soon as possible.
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