Closed for Tropical Storm Ian, Volusia schools to welcome students back Wednesday

Mark Harper
The Daytona Beach News-Journal

All 69 Volusia County Schools, which have been closed for a week due to Tropical Storm Ian, will reopen Wednesday after crews repaired damage caused by high winds and rising floodwaters last Thursday and Friday.

More importantly, the schools will serve as a resource for the students, their families and district employees who have been through the trauma of losing their homes and their sense of normalcy, Carmen Balgobin, the district's superintendent, said in an interview Tuesday.

Flagler County Schools reopened Monday. Of the district's approximately 13,000 students, a total of 1,011 were absent on Monday, said Jason Wheeler, a district spokesman.

Volusia County Schools Superintendent Carmen Balgobin, left, meets with staff and volunteers at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, where 18 students and their families were living after Hurricane Ian on Monday. The school district is reopening for classes on Wednesday and Balgobin said transportation will be made available for those displaced students to return to their schools.

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"Schools are the cornerstone of stability for many families. It’s where our students get their meals. It’s where our students get their normal from, and so it’s a delicate balance between when is the right time to reopen our schools," Volusia County School Board Chair Ruben Colón said during a Saturday news conference.

Flagler Schools Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt said schools are a safe environment for children, where they are not only given an education, but also breakfast and lunch.  

“It absolutely is important for students, especially at a younger age, when … their routine has been impacted. We are trying to reestablish that routine," Mittelstadt said.

Balgobin said she took time Monday to visit the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, where some storm evacuees have been temporarily sheltered.

“We have 18 students there. These 18 students, we’re going to take vans to pick them up starting (Wednesday) and take them to their schools. We’re also getting a list of items that they may be in need of, like book bags and materials and clothing," Balgobin said. "And I’m planning on the areas that have been hit the heaviest, like the 32114 area (in Daytona Beach), Holly Hill, some of the Deltona area, to have extra mental health counselors in some of those schools.”  

During the storm, four Volusia County Schools served as shelters for people who felt their homes might be unsafe during Ian's assault. The district tweeted that more than 380 guests, 12 dogs, four cats, three bunnies and one bird stayed at the schools.

Volusia County Schools employees staff the emergency hurricane shelter at Mainland High School during Tropical Storm Ian last week. Four Volusia County schools served as shelters for evacuees.

Once the shelters closed on Saturday, Volusia district officials turned their attention to surveying the damage at schools across the county. 

Volusia Pines Elementary in Lake Helen was encroached by "quite a bit of water," but that has since receded, Balgobin said. Several schools in Daytona Beach, including Campbell Middle and Turie T. Small Elementary, were "in bad shape," but have been restored, while other schools that needed the most work included Deltona Lakes, Pride and Sugar Mill elementaries, Holly Hill School, New Smyrna Beach Middle and Deltona High.

Teaching refreshers will be needed

In addition to giving students a sense of normalcy, teachers will have to spend time reviewing lessons that have already been taught. 

“I’m thinking about math. We were supposed to have our chapter test last Friday,” said Sean Hyacinth Jr., a fifth-grade teacher at Palm Terrace Elementary School in Daytona Beach. “But with five days out, we had six lessons prior to that that I’m sure the kids forgot.” 

Hyacinth said he uses the ClassDojo app to communicate with parents and of the 65 students in his classes, he had only heard back from 15. This signals to him that time must be taken for social-emotional learning, as well.  

Many schools have collected clothes, shoes, socks, underwear, hygiene products and backpacks with school supplies for those families in need. 

“I love my school,” Hyacinth said. “For those parents and students that don’t have anything, they shouldn’t have to worry about anything. We have enough things.” 

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DSC, area colleges resume classes

The majority of Daytona State College's campuses reopened Monday, as well. DSC's New Smyrna Beach-Edgewater campus reopened on Tuesday, with DeLand set to go Wednesday, said Chris Thomes, a college spokesman.

Online classes reopened on Monday and the college's full power and information technology networks have been restored.

Stetson University in DeLand and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach returned to normal operations on Monday, but Bethune-Cookman University's Daytona Beach campus remains closed this week.

"We did sustain damage to several areas and buildings and continue to assess the damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian," interim President Lawrence Drake wrote in a letter to students posted on the B-CU website. "We are not only sensitive to the implications of keeping the campus closed and its impact on your academic studies and the academic year in general but also realize that events like these are traumatic for all of us. Even though we care a great deal about your academic standing, we care just as much about your well-being. So please try not to be anxious about where we are today, as I can assure you, we are working through this as a community, and we will get through it. My faith in God and in each of you tells me this will be so." 

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