Okeechobee schools back up to speed after Dorian

OKEECHOBEE — Schools in Okeechobee are back up and running after closing for the slow-moving Hurricane Dorian earlier this week.

Schools were closed on Sept. 4 as the hurricane, which was initially scheduled to hit the area late Sept. 1 and early Sept. 2, remained almost stationary next to South Florida in the Atlantic.

As the storm eventually made its long-predicted turn north away from South Florida’s east coast, the Okeechobee County School District gave the all-clear for school activities to resume on Sept. 5, with district employees reporting a day early for a teacher work day.

Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy confirmed that the small amount of wind and rain the Okeechobee area did see had very little effect on schools in the district.

“All things considered, everything went well,” said Mr. Kenworthy. “No major damages. A couple of roof leaks causing replacement of a few ceiling tiles, but nothing substantial.”

A few employees of the school district evacuated ahead of the storm. Mr. Kenworthy says those employees that could not safely return for work on Sept. 4 for the teacher work day were offered the opportunity to take personal leave, vacation leave if they earn it or unearned leave to cover that time.

Okeechobee County Education Association President Jorje Botello says some of his association’s members who evacuated have expressed concern about having to risk traveling back to Okeechobee to avoid burning their personal days at the same time as Dorian moves northward in their direction.

All employees working for the school district will be paid for Sept. 3 when schools were officially closed under the emergency declaration.

South Elementary was used as both a general and pet-friendly shelter while the storm threatened Okeechobee. A special needs shelter was also opened at the Okeechobee Public Works building. Okeechobee County schools food service staff prepared and served food at both shelters.

“We are so fortunate to have kind, caring and dedicated employees to run the multi-day sheltering event during Dorian,” explained Mr. Kenworthy. “The food service staff served hot meals to the clients, the custodians made sure our campuses were maintained 24/7, administrators helped run facilities and operations and our school resource officers made sure we were safe and secure. We cannot thank them enough. We are glad the school district and Red Cross were able to help out our community.”

With Labor Day occurring on Sept. 2, that meant students ultimately only missed two days of school. Currently there are enough hours built into the schedule that those two days will not need to be made up and will not affect the Thanksgiving break. However, if more hurricanes force schools to close again, then officials may have to modify bell schedules to lengthen the school day or use part of the Thanksgiving break to make up for missed time.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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