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Escambia Schools To Open Wednesday

Holm Elementary

Five days after Hurricane Sally came ashore on the Florida-Alabama Gulf Coast, dumping more than 20 inches of rain, schools in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties reopened today. However, Escambia County schoolsremain closed until Wednesday.

Monday evening update:

Superintendent Malcolm Thomas has announced that all schools and district administrative buildings will resume normal operations on Wednesday. All district employees are to report to their work sites at their normally scheduled time on Wednesday. 

“The timely return of staff members and students has been made possible by the hard work of dedicated district employees, in partnership with local agencies,” Thomas said in a news release Monday afternoon, adding “while many district facilities sustained substantial damage, repairs are being handled safely and expeditiously.” 

Currently an inspection of all athletic facilities and fields is being conducted by district administrators, high school principals, coaches and athletic directors.  For those campuses with viable athletic facilities and fields, high school athletic practices may resume after noon Tuesday. 

Superintendent Thomas will continue to provide updates via automated calls to parents and employees, and also via local media and the district website. 

Here is what Thomas said Sunday:

“The school district is making good strides, made a lot of good progress over the last couple of days,” said Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas Sunday at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center.

He thanked members of his staff, as well as the efforts of Gulf Power and the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, before announcing that the Escambia County School District would stay closed at least through tomorrow (Tues), because of lingering water and power issues. 

“Although we’re making progress, there’s still work that we have to complete to be able to reopen our buildings to our students and employees,” Thomas declared. “Our process is such that once the power is restored to a school, and we’re down to six schools without power - that’s pretty phenomenal when three or four days ago, we didn’t have a single school with power.”

In Escambia, Pensacola Beach Charter School is one exception to public school closures due to Hurricane Sally. Pensacola Beach Charter School, which operates on the Santa Rosa County School District calendar, reopened today.

Privately run Pensacola Christian Academy also has reopened.

According to Thomas, most of the damage across the district has been superficial, such as downed trees. He says the most significant destruction occurred at Holm Elementary School.

“We had a wing of the school that flooded,” he said. “This was the same wing that flooded back in 2014. So, we’ll be relocating several classrooms from Holm Elementary and moving them to the nearby middle school, which is Workman Middle School. We’ll be moving about eight classroom locations at that time.”

Thomas expects that all schools in the district will have power restored by today (Monday), which will allow school administrators to get a closer look at their campuses.

“The next step in our process is that our principals, with the power on, will be able to turn the lights on will be able to go back and do a visual inspection. We’ve already done that three times, both internal and external. We resolved the issues that we could see.”

If the inspections result in the discovery of any significant issues, district personnel would spend today and Tuesday getting them resolved.

In addition to power, water, and debris management, another major factor in reopening schools is safe operation of bus service.

Thomas says route supervisors will go on the road Tuesday to make sure that roads in neighborhoods are passable for school buses.

“I think we’re doing a really good job on the major thoroughfares. But, when you talk about transporting students to school, we don’t stay on the main thoroughfare; we get off into some of the back roads and into the neighborhoods,” Thomas said.

“So, we’ll have those routes run physically in an automobile, so that we can determine if we’ve got any real problems. If we have problems, our first reaction would be to reroute the students to a nearby stop or location. If it’s significant enough that we can’t do that and the students would have to go such a great distance, we’ll work with Janice Gilley and the County to make those roads a priority.”

Superintendent Thomas reassured that schools will reopen this week, and he urged families and employees to stay tuned for more details, which will be disseminated through their automated notification system.

Thomas added that district officials in Escambia County are working on a plan to deal with anticipated issues that may arise for Virtual and Remote students, in order to keep them learning at home and out of the schools amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

On the higher education front in Escambia County, the University of West Florida will remain closed until 5 a.m. Thursday.

Pensacola State College has announced plans to remain closed throughout this week, with plans to reopen Monday, September 28.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.