FLORIDA (AP)— The devastation from Hurricane Ian has left schools shuttered indefinitely in parts of Florida, leaving storm-weary families anxious for word on when and how children can get back to classrooms.
As rescue and recovery operations continue in the storm's aftermath, several school systems in hard-hit counties in southwestern Florida cannot say for sure when they will reopen. Some schools are without power and still assessing the damage, as well as the impact on staff members who may have lost homes or cannot return to work.
Shuttered schools can worsen the hurricane's disruption for children. Recovery from natural disasters elsewhere suggests the effects on kids can be lasting, particularly in low-income communities that have a harder time bouncing back.
"In a week or two, we'll have forgotten about Hurricane Ian. But these districts and schools and students will be struggling months and years later," said Cassandra R Davis, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina.
In Florida, 68 of 75 school districts are open for in-person instruction, and two more districts are expected to reopen this week, the state Department of Education said Tuesday. Among those still closed is Sarasota, where nearly half of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty.
Abbie Tarr Trembley, a mother of four in Sarasota, said her youngest, a nine-year-old boy, asks each morning when he can go back to school.
"Every morning he's like, 'Mom, is it a school day? Is it a school day?'" she said. "Every morning, I'm almost in tears."
The hurricane damaged the roof of her house, and the family lost power for three days. She was grateful to be spared worse. But she has begun to worry about the effects on her children and their education. Her son already repeated first grade to help him catch up from the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Online learning recently has been an option for schools dealing with disasters from the coronavirus pandemic to hurricanes, but researchers have said overreliance on remote education is not sustainable.
Davis has studied how Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 impacted student learning in the southeastern US. She said research shows elementary students continued to fall behind academically, as much as two years after a storm. But districts where parents are affluent and school budgets are healthy tend to recover more quickly.
Sarasota County school officials say they hope to reopen schools for some of their 45,000 students on Monday. School leaders are aiming to reopen buildings in the northern part of the county, which suffered less damage compared to the schools in the south.
In the meantime, students can use online resources if they have access to the internet, Sarasota school officials said at a news conference. Florida's education department did not respond to questions about its guidance to local school systems for addressing the missed school days.