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NC school districts prepare, brace for Hurricane Florence

We reached out to the public information officers in the 115 districts across North Carolina. This article will be updated over the course of the next days and weeks with stories and photos from our school districts as they are impacted by Hurricane Florence. Text FLORENCE to 73224 to share your stories and photos with us.

Updated on 9/18, 11:30 a.m.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released the following message on September 17.

Hurricane Florence updates from the Department of Public Instruction

As Hurricane Florence continues to affect the state, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is providing the following updates. 

“We are nowhere near the end of this storm or its devastation, but we have already begun responding when and how we can,” said State Superintendent Mark Johnson. “Even as many schools in the state return to normal this week, others will be in varying conditions of response and restoration. Every one of our team members is doing what we can and will continue to help.”

According to unofficial DPI data, 49 of North Carolina’s 115 school districts were closed Monday, and another 23 were operating on a delay. For charter schools, 71 were closed Monday and six were operating on delay. At least 1.2 million of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students have missed some school because of the storm.  

Assistance from DPI will take many forms, but the most immediate work is summarized below.

N.C. Public School Insurance Fund 

The Department of Public Instruction is the property insurance provider for many educational institutions in North Carolina, insuring $28 billion of property statewide via the N.C. Public School Insurance Fund. More than $9 billion of the DPI-insured $28 billion is located east of Interstate 95. 

Agency staff estimate that Hurricane Florence losses will exceed those from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. In that storm, losses totaled $14 million for DPI-insured property. 

Accountability

DPI is encouraging districts and schools that have experienced disruptions in this school year’s state-mandated testing to contact their regional accountability coordinators to discuss options.

School Nutrition

Statewide, school nutrition staff employed by districts and charter schools play an important role during natural disasters. Staff of DPI’s School Nutrition division, in collaboration with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, support school-based staff by answering questions, directing resources, and coordinating with federal officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

School nutrition directors have been determining the most extreme need for food and have been instrumental in moving food, getting it to shelters, and other aspects of food-related disaster support. 

Today, President Donald Trump amended the Major Presidential Disaster Declaration so that it now includes 18 counties in the state. This declaration gives local school nutrition directors in the disaster counties all possible flexibility to utilize food to serve families and communities according to local need. 

DPI will continue to issue updates on Hurricane Florence as events develop. Superintendent Johnson will be traveling to affected areas later this week.


Updated on 9/17, 3:15 p.m.

Even as water levels continue to rise across North Carolina, clean-up efforts are already underway at one elementary school in Kinston. During the storm, a large hardwood tree fell onto the playground equipment at Northwest Elementary School. According to Laurel Sargeant, a volunteer with the clean-up effort, the playground equipment is only several years old and was purchased with money from the Box Tops program and the hard work of school and PTA leadership donations.

A large tree fell on the playground at Northwest Elementary School in Kinston. Laurel Sargeant

On Monday morning, about 25 volunteers from groups including St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Boy Scout Troop’s 41 and 392, Northwest Elementary School, and the PTA gathered to remove the tree as well as clean up debris on the school’s campus.

Although progress was made during the clean-up efforts today, the job is not done. Volunteers will reconvene tomorrow morning to finish cleaning up.

“It takes a village,” said Sargeant. “St. Mary’s has a long-standing partnership in its eight year with Northwest Elementary called Hand in Hand. We believe that: ‘Hand in hand, together we can.'”


According to the NC Community College System, the following community colleges are closed on Monday, September 17: Beaufort County, Bladen, Brunswick, Caldwell, Cape Fear, Carteret, Catawba Valley, Central Carolina, Central Piedmont, Coastal Carolina, Craven, Davidson County, Durham Tech (closed at noon), Edgecombe, Fayetteville Tech, James Sprunt, Johnston, Lenoir, Martin, Mayland, Montgomery, Nash, Pamlico, Pitt, Randolph, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Sandhills, South Piedmont, Southeastern, Stanly, Wake Tech, Wayne, Wilkes (Ashe Campus), and Wilson.


Updated on 9/17, 8:00 a.m.

Given flooding, power outages, and expected damage to school buildings, leaders in Robeson County posted to Facebook on Saturday night that schools would be closed “until further notice.”

Administrators “will continue to err on the side of caution,” Superintendent Dr. Shanita W. Wooten wrote, even if that means delaying a return to class for the 20,000-plus students of the district.


Updated on 9/12, 8:00 p.m.

Superintendent Mark Johnson released the following message about Hurricane Florence: 

Parents, caretakers, and educators,

As the State Superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools, I want you to know that your child’s success in school and beyond is our top priority.

We are leading improvements for our schools, and starting this school year, we will regularly engage with you to make sure we are on the right track for students, parents, and teachers.

But today, storm preparation is the most important topic.

No matter where you live in North Carolina, please take Hurricane Florence very seriously. The storm is so large that every North Carolinian may experience severe weather.

Schools in eastern North Carolina have already announced closings. More will be announced soon. Follow our statewide list of cancellations and get more information at NCsuperintendent.com/weather. You can sign up at NCsuperintendent.com for more frequent updates.

The State of North Carolina has a free resource to help you prepare for the storm. Please visit ReadyNC.org or download the ReadyNC app. Also, follow us on social media for updates: @MarkRJohnsonNC

I join the governor and all your leaders in Raleigh in urging everyone to use extreme caution and make necessary preparations.

In the next few days, I will be working with local officials on storm recovery efforts. The focus now is on making sure we are all safe through the storm.

Thank you, and please stay safe.

Mark R. Johnson

Mark Johnson
NC Superintendent of Public Instruction
@MarkRJohnsonNC 
NCsuperintendent.com


In Granville County, a team effort is underway to protect area schools. Career technical education students work alongside staff to place sand bags on a flood-prone area of a local high school. 


In the western part of the state, Transylvania County Schools are preparing for the potential loss of power across their district. To remain in contact with students and families who may lose internet access, the school system created a new text message alert line through Remind — a smartphone application typically used for classes and extracurricular activities. According to Kevin Smith, the schools-community relations coordinator for the district, this system could prove critical in staying connected with some of the district’s families.


 

Analisa Sorrells

Analisa Sorrells is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and previously worked as chief of staff and associate director of policy for EducationNC.