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Pender County Schools Set To Reopen Next Week After Hurricane Florence

a 2nd grader filling out a form about Hurricane Florence
Michael Cline Spencer
File photo of a 2nd grader filling out a form about Hurricane Florence.

When Elizabeth Allen picked her kids up from school on September 10, she didn’t know it would be October before she dropped them off again.
"I’m not sure what I thought, but it definitely wasn’t a month and a half later," Allen said.

While other school districts have reopened after Hurricane Florence hit the state last month, nearly 8,000 students in coastal Pender County are still out of class. Their district was pummeled by Florence. Schools there may reopen next week -- six weeks after closing for the storm.

For Allen, that's meant being at home with her kids, ages 3, 6 and 7. The family recently moved to Pender County from Maine.

"Mostly we play at the playground," said Allen, who works from home. "They’re on their tablets way more than they should be. I wish I could say I was doing education stuff at home, but other than reading, we haven’t done much."

Allen said getting her own work done hasn’t been too tough. She got used to multitasking while taking care of her kids all summer, before they were in school for just 10 days.

"But I was so looking forward to being back in a routine, and just having the youngest home, and being able to really focus and get things done," she said. "That has not happened yet. So, crossing my fingers! I’m really hoping for Monday."

So is Kenneth Lanier.

"Just keep your fingers crossed that everything goes well, and Monday-Tuesday happens as we’ve planned it," Lanier said.

Lanier chairs the Pender County school board. Earlier this week, his district announced plans to reopen schools on Monday and Tuesday.

"We have 18 schools, and after the hurricane had finished...none of our schools had power, all our systems went down, and we had a lot of water infiltration through lost roofs and so forth," he said.

School officials had to wait for power to be restored to assess damage. Then they had to put out bids to contractors, whom Lanier says have been overwhelmed by demand since Florence hit. When the district exhausted its $2 million fund balance to pay for initial repairs, $4 million more was secured from county commissioners.

And that’s only a fraction of the bureaucratic hoops Lanier described. He estimates the district faces $10 to $20 million worth of damage, at least.

"We’re in territory that we’ve never been in before in Pender County," Lanier said. "We have over 710 students that are considered homeless, and that will probably go up. We also have 64 employees at this time that are homeless."

Lanier and district officials are juggling these needs with the pressure to get kids back into classrooms -- that are safe. So Lanier is asking parents to have patience with the district.

"If we can get to Monday and Tuesday and open our system back up, we will have done a great thing for this county," he said.

Then, the work of catching students up and soothing their hurricane-ridden nerves begins.

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