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Sarasota County schools will remain closed after Hurricane Ian until safety can be ensured

Men in yellow safety vests clear hurricane debris
Sarasota County Government
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Many parts of Sarasota County remain flooded and without power.

Two Sarasota County schools were still being used as shelters as of Sunday — Tatum Ridge Elementary for medically dependent evacuees and Venice High School for the general population.

The Sarasota County school district says all public schools are closed until further notice due to Hurricane Ian.

WUSF's Cathy Carter spoke with Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Brennan Asplen and Craig Maniglia, the district's communications director, for an update.

Superintendent, we are at Venice High School, which is serving as an emergency shelter. Could you please give us an update on the status of the reopening of Sarasota County schools?

We are continuing to assess the damage at all of our schools. We've had 14 shelters open originally; we have a pretty good idea of the damage in those. But we have 35 other schools that were not inhabited during the storm that we're trying to get to to assess the damage. We've had power outages; the water hasn't worked, roof damage, water intrusion. Since there hasn't been power, I think some of the mold has started to build which causes a problem because then your repairs become lengthy if you have to start ripping out carpets and such. So, getting the power and the air conditioning on as soon as possible is critical.

And what some people might not realize is that school personnel are working at the shelters right now.

We have worked collaboratively with the county and the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) with our shelters, and one thing I want everybody to understand is when we do open our shelters, our administrators across our entire district, work those shelters, preparing them and working during them. They work 24/7. They've been in those shelters since Tuesday, and they are there to serve.

Flooded street with road signs
City of North Port
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With many areas of Sarasota County still flooded, officials say schools will remain closed indefinitley.

Craig Maniglia, unlike the Coronavirus pandemic, here with the impacts of the hurricane, remote learning isn't even an option.

Virtual learning will become quite difficult for the county because there are families, there are teachers, there are places in our community that no longer have any kind of power. Heck, there are some people who don't even have a home anymore. So, when you talk about virtual learning that has become a problem because we as a district don't even have stable WiFi right now. So possibly down the line, we could look at some sort of distance learning but at this point, we're just trying to get power back on so we can assess damages that we have to do in-person learning.

Superintendent, a lot of people, especially in South Sarasota County, are dealing with their own personal crises right now.

We have many employees that have had disasters happen at their own house. And so, they are really working on their own lives at this point in time, so whether we did anything remote, or even had them come in, many wouldn't be able to even come in at this point in time. Some of them can't even get in and out of their home and they don't have power and so forth. But at the same time, I want to make sure everybody understands that our senior cabinet has been talking about and looking at different options that we can place on the table and it might be even a hybrid of options. But it's all very situational, because it depends on our people because education is a people business. You have to have people in front of students or remotely. So right now, until we really can assess the total damage, it's hard for us to figure out which option to go with. But pretty much anything's on the table right now. But we will be closed until further notice, until we can figure all that out.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.