Return to Headlines

School Districts Assessing Hurricane Damage; Several Still Facing Long Recovery Ahead [UPDATED 9/20/18]

Katherine Joyce | NCASA

The remnants of Hurricane Florence moved north Monday, leaving 25 NC deaths in its wake, hundreds of major and secondary roads closed, rivers spilling out of their banks into devastating floods, property damages escalating, and thousands of North Carolinians scrambling to pick up the pieces. The state’s public school districts are front and center in the impacted communities, with many still unable to open this week and several providing ongoing shelter to displaced families.

Portions of Interstate 95 and Interstate 40 remained closed by mid-week, as were numerous streets and back roads, making travel to and within many communities challenging and almost impossible in hard-hit areas like Lumberton, Wilmington, and Jacksonville. As of Monday afternoon, the NC Department of Transportation reported approximately 1,200 road closures due to flooding and debris from Florence.

Across the state, 49 of the state’s 115 school districts were closed Monday, with 23 operating on a delay, according to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Of the 185 charter schools, 71 were closed Monday and six were operating on a delay. At least 1.2 million of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students have missed some school because of the storm, according to DPI.

Some school districts in the Triangle were able to reopen Monday or Tuesday, and Wake County closed its emergency operations center and six emergency shelters, which housed more than 1,200 people during the storm, including many who were sheltered on school campuses. More than 15,000 people have sought refuge in 110 shelters statewide, including mega-shelters at Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as reported by the Raleigh News and Observer.

Elsewhere on Monday, other counties were bracing for the rising flood waters of the Black, Little, Cape Fear, Lumber and Neuse rivers, and several others, that were expected to reach moderate or major flood stages. The water and its damage won’t end quickly, especially near the coast. North Carolina emergency managers predict the flooding at the Cape Fear River near Burgaw will do more than $11 million in damage, according to reports from the Raleigh News and Observer.

Lumberton High Football Field Statewide, nearly 3,000 members of the state’s National Guard have been assisting in some of the areas hit hardest by the storm, and more than 300,000 customers remain without power on Tuesday, as utility company crews work diligently to add them to the 1.2 million customers already restored since the storm hit.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency added 10 more counties to the federal disaster declaration on Monday, for a total of 18 counties whose citizens are now eligible for assistance, including: Beaufort, Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett, Lenoir, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender, Robeson, Sampson, and Wayne. Two other counties, Hoke and Scotland, had pending requests for federal aid earlier in the week and are expected to be added.

 

Among these counties, reports of the damage and long-term challenges being faced not only by the citizens, but also by their school systems, began to emerge mid-week. Here is a brief, but very incomplete, glimpse of their struggles, based on information the North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) was able to obtain:

  • New Hanover County Schools – The district remains in a state of emergency as two schools – Hoggard High School and Coddington Elementary School – continue to serve as shelters for displaced residents, according to Superintendent Tim Markley, who has been helping out at the shelters. “We have at least 15 schools with significant damage,” he said Tuesday. “Twenty of our 44 principals evacuated for safety reasons, so reopening those schools will be difficult, especially as access into the county remains closed.” Flooded roads and downed trees continued to slow the recovery by mid-week, and new challenges were on the horizon. “Our rivers are cresting today, but that is causing new problems as roads that were open before are suddenly covered with water and debris,” Markley said. “We are out of school this week and likely a good bit of next week and will reassess opening from there as we can get folks back in and evaluate.” Dr. Markley said he has talked to the State Superintendent and Sen. Michael Lee (R-Wilmington; Senate Education Committee Chairman) about the need for the General Assembly to excuse some of the missed school days that will be impossible to make up in the 2018-19 year. This crisis also highlights the need for the State to restore local flexibility in setting and adjusting the school calendar to address community needs and crisis situations, such as the crises now being presented by Hurricane Florence.
  • Onslow County Schools – The district has “minor to extensive damage at all school locations including some major roof failures,” according to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Hollamon, an NCASA Past President and Board member. He said school would remain closed for students and staff this entire week.
  • Robeson County Schools – For the second time in two years, this school system is without a permanent central office, according to reports from The Robesonian. Hurricane Florence swamped the school district's temporary headquarters at the old BB&T call center on Kahn Drive in Lumberton, where about 80 employees worked. Hurricane Matthew had destroyed the district's longtime central office on Oct. 8, 2016. In July of this year, the central office moved into the old BB&T building, which also was flooded during Matthew. Florence also forced the cancellation last week of the school board meeting, and school has been out since Wednesday, Sept. 12. It is unknown when the schools will reopen, but four of them – Lumberton High School, Purnell Swett High School, St. Paul’s High School, and Fairmont Middle School – were being used as shelters mid-week.
  • Scotland County Schools – Nine schools remained without power on Tuesday, and numerous roads in the county remained closed, according Assistant Superintendent Cory Satterfield. “It will be a process,” he said, but “Scotland County is starting to recover!”
  • Harnett County Schools – “We have three schools with water damage, and several roads are washed out,” Superintendent Aaron Fleming said on Tuesday.” We are closed through tomorrow and maybe longer.”
  • Craven County Schools - Craven County continues to be under a mandatory evacuation order, as Craven County Schools continue to assess the damage to its schools. Current assessments include “flooding in several facilities and water entry in several others,” as well as “roof and tree damage in multiple locations.” The majority of Craven County Schools also do not have power. Further, many staff members, students, and others in Craven County have experienced substantial flooding in their homes, resulting in school closures through Friday, September 21.
  • Lenior County Schools-- Superintendent Brent Williams submitted the following information regarding Lenior County Schools:
Lenoir will be closed at least through Friday (9/21).  The water still is rising here before the Neuse River crests in Kinston on Saturday at an expected 25.6 feet, about halfway between the 23.3 ft. from Fran here in 1996 and 27.7 ft. here from Floyd in 1999.  Many of our roads are closed from flooding or from water-related damage.  Travel within the county is difficult. We had some damage in many of our schools, but it was less severe than what we have seen in the past.
 
Our transportation facility was completely flooded during Hurricane Matthew and is being flooded again.  We are hoping that between now and Saturday morning, the flood waters will not be five feet deep in those buildings like they were with Matthew --- devastation that forced us to relocate all transportation services for more than one full year.
 
Small celebration point:  After many electrical restorations yesterday, over half of our county now has power again after having been without it since Thursday (9/13).  Most residents now have water again.
 
We have combined and reduced the number of shelters from four to one, with multiple "feeding stations" throughout the county and a field hospital located in the southern part of our county.  Like so many other counties, there is a lot of damage here that will take quite some time to recover from fully.  I am very pleased, however, to share that among almost all of our citizens with whom I have interacted before and during this crisis, there is a wonderful and uplifting sense of optimism, a united spirit of resilience--- a collective determination to overcome these obstacles and to move forward together.  We are continuing to pray for all of the other districts and communities impacted by Hurricane Florence.

 

 

Individual District Updates

The following districts reopened on Monday, September 17: Hertford County and Weldon City.

The following school districts resumed classes on September 19: Richmond County (2-hour delay), Elizabeth City (1-hour delay), Stanly County, and Hyde County.

The following districts are closed until September 21 and then an assessment will be made concerning opening the following week: Brunswick County, Carteret County, Craven County, Columbus County, Duplin County, New Hanover County, Onslow County, Pender County, Scotland County, Wayne County, and Whiteville City.

The following districts will be closed indefinitely: Clinton City, Robeson County and Sampson County.

Lexington City and Bertie County, not among areas of heavy impact, are both holding food drives to assist affected communities.

 

Pamlico County Middle School

Along with superintendents and central officer leaders, many North Carolina principals are working diligently to get their facilities ready to welcome back students and get their lives back to normal.

“Needs are great across eastern NC, and I am humbled by the support offered,” Pamlico County Middle School Principal Jeremy Johnson said in a Facebook post. “Seven years ago, many students lost their homes, churches, and their school to flood waters. It is surreal that it has happened again. Our county is resilient and will rise above this once more. We appreciate your thoughts, prayers, and support. We are truly Eastern North Carolina strong!”

The North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) and our affiliates are also working to see how we can assist with the long recovery that lies ahead for North Carolina school leaders. Jack Hoke, Executive Director of the NC School Superintendents’ Association, reached out to superintendents Tuesday in the counties declared part of the federal disaster designation to ask for information on specific help needed in each area, so he can help coordinate support and assistance being offered by other superintendents across the state. In addition, the Governor’s Office has activated the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund for donations to support North Carolina’s response to Hurricane Florence. To donate, visit www.governor.nc.gov or text FLORENCE to 20222 to have a $10 donation charged to your monthly cell phone bill. 

DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding website that raises money specifically for teacher classroom needs, has also organized a fundraising campaign for classrooms impacted by Hurricane Florence.

School districts also will receive assistance from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), and according to a statement from the department, the most immediate work is summarized below:

 

Displaced Students

One of the many tragedies that comes from a storm like Hurricane Florence is students who have lost their homes and belongings. Students displaced by storm damage to their homes are protected by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act. The following are a few key factors to keep in mind whether you are at a school unaffected by Florence or a school reopening its doors with students returning:

  • Students displaced by the storm have the right to remain in their schools of origin (i.e., the school the student attended when permanently housed or in which the student was last enrolled) if that is in the student’s best interest, regardless of whether where they are currently staying is in that school’s district attendance zone;
  • If it is in the student’s best interest to change schools, homeless students must be immediately enrolled in a new school, even if they do not have the records normally required for enrollment (many required documents may be lost or unavailable because of the storm);
  • Transportation must be provided to or from a student’s school of origin, at the request of a parent, guardian, or, in the case of an unaccompanied youth, the local liaison;
  • Homeless students must have access to all programs and services for which they are eligible, including special education services, preschool, school nutrition programs, language assistance for English learners, career and technical education, gifted and talented programs, magnet schools, charter schools, etc.
  • For additional details and guidance, including a Tips for Supporting Homeless Children and Youths sheet that can be shared with staff, visit the NC Homeless Education Program web site at https://hepnc.uncg.edu/

 

Transportation

DPI Transportation Services has been monitoring the impacts of Hurricane Florence and has been in communication with many of the affected LEAs in the state. There will be much work to do to prepare the school bus fleet for a return to service and to alter school bus routes to avoid damaged roadways and pick up displaced students.

We have asked LEA transportation departments to assess and report damage to their vehicle assets and operating capabilities following the storm. We have also asked that they keep track of additional costs to operate as a result of Florence in anticipation of providing potential funding assistance to defray some of those additional unexpected costs. Please contact DPI and TIMS support staff if you need any assistance or guidance.

We would also like to recognize all the efforts of school transportation staff throughout the state: They have provided fuel and transportation to shelters, moved vehicles to higher ground, provided 24-hour support at their local emergency operations command centers, assessed roadways, and provided assets for and assisted in evacuations and other emergency management functions – and that is certainly not a complete list.

 

School Nutrition

The staff of the School Nutrition Section have been working around the clock to request waivers from the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to permit emergency meals for children in disaster areas. These waivers have been requested on behalf of LEAs and other child-advocacy groups such as food banks and faith-based organizations.

Waivers will allow maximum flexibilities to School Food Authorities (SFAs) located in counties that were included in the Major Presidential Disaster Declaration. Waivers will also provide short-term relief to other SFAs whose food supplies have been depleted as a result of disruptions in transportation, food loss due to power outages, and in situations where existing food inventories have been diverted to emergency feeding shelters. School Nutrition staff are communicating daily with local School Nutrition Administrators to assess needs, coordinate resources, and request flexibilities to support children, families, and communities.

 

Insurance

The staff of the Public School Insurance Fund, which insures about $28 billion of property statewide including more than $9 billion located east of Interstate 95, is collecting damage assessments of insured property as local teams are able to estimate on the ground. DPI-insured properties are both K-12 and community college facilities.

Almost all damage has been caused by wind and ranges as far inland as Union County, although properties in Brunswick, Craven, New Hanover, and Scotland counties sustained flood damage. (School districts with properties that have likely sustained damage but are not insured by the fund include Cumberland, Wayne, and Duplin.)

If you have suffered a loss and are insured by DPI, please let us know. Those not insured by DPI should contact their insurer. Also, regardless of your insurer, you should mitigate any losses as you are able. 

 

Finance

Hurricane Florence will provide plenty of challenges for DPI, district, and charter school finance officers. Unlike Hurricane Matthew, which hit in October, Florence disrupted activities and displaced students during the first month of school, which will delay student accounting reporting used for funding purposes. DPI finance staff is currently assessing different options to ensure timely allocations.

If the storm continues to affect the communications and systems access in your LEA/charter school and you need to request cash, please submit your cash request with the dollar amount and fund source via email to candace.watkins@dpi.nc.gov.

The request will be entered for the next available funds requirement date.

Other Financial Resources

School of Government Emergency Management Law Microsite

The School of Government NC Emergency Management microsite provides helpful information on Emergency Management topics, including procurement. See the navigation links on the page for laws and authorities related to emergency management, sample documents including FEMA procurement guidelines and sample contract provisions, and links to FEMA Procurement Disaster Assistance Team (PDAT) resources.

Disaster Preparations Records Management

The G.S. 132 Files, the official Records Management blog of the State Archives of North Carolina, Disaster Preparations: Hurricane Florence blog post provides valuable information on disaster preparation and recovery action in the event that your records are affected by a disaster event, as well as contact information.

Debris removal guidance

Please see the Debris Removal Guidance from the N.C. Division of Emergency Management. For questions and assistance, please contact NCEM Public Assistance Team:

  • Mary Glasscock, 919-306-8188
  • Andy Innis, 919-218-3191

Bid disaster-related contracts from the N.C. Dept. of Administration

Please see the following message from Norma Houston, UNC School of Government:

“For those of you facing the threat of Florence and anticipating having to contract for purchases, services, repairs, etc., please remember that when you bid disaster-related contracts for which you plan to seek FEMA reimbursement, you must satisfy federal (UG) M/WBE outreach requirements for ALL contracts costing $10,000 or more (and I mean ALL contracts – purchase, service, construction, repair, A/E services, etc.).

“An easy way to satisfy this requirement is to post your bid solicitation on the NC HUB office website. If you have any questions about the HUB website, please contact John Guenther with the NC HUB office at john.guenther@doa.nc.gov.

"I know it may seem tedious to worry about bidding procedures in the face of the storm but taking a few brief minutes to post your bid solicitations on the HUB website could mean the difference between getting reimbursed or not.”

 

Accountability

Accountability staff have received guidance on BOG testing through TNN. Your Regional Accountability Coordinator can provide further assistance when necessary.

 

Early Education

mCLASS Reading 3D

In an effort to support schools and districts, the state mCLASS:Reading 3D window will be extended. Once we have gathered additional information on the full impact, we will send out an adjusted date for the close of the BOY window. We will continue to work individually with schools and districts that have been severely affected by the storm on a case-by-case basis.

Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA)

Affected districts should contact your Office of Early Learning (OEL) regional consultant if you have questions or concerns about completing the Kindergarten Entry Assessment within the 60-day window ending Dec. 7. The OEL will continue to monitor the situation and is committed to ensuring that schools and districts heavily affected by Florence have the time they need to administer the KEA. Updates will be provided as more information becomes available.

 

Support to low-performing districts and schools

Low Performing District and School webinars have been rescheduled. See below:

  1. Low Performing Districts webinar: Sept. 21, 2-3 p.m.
  2. Low Performing Schools webinar: Sept. 21, 3-4 p.m.
  3. Low Performing Districts webinar: Sept. 24, 2-3 p.m.
  4. Low Performing Schools webinar: Sept. 24, 3-4 p.m.

The timeline for completion and submission for low-performing schools and districts does not start until after the October SBE meeting or officially Oct. 5, making the first required step not due until Nov. 5.

 

Federal Assistance

DPI Federal Programs staff have been in contact with federal officials and are exploring all relevant assistance and flexibility that may be available to students and schools in the affected areas of the state. We will share information on available assistance, deadlines to apply, and any other information as we have it.

In addition, a wealth of information about FEMA-related assistance is available through the UNC School of Government’s website here.

 

Calendar Flexibility

We are working with the General Assembly on any calendar flexibility waivers for affected districts. This waiver can be granted only by the legislature. See http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/accounting/calendar/ for more information.

  

 School crossing image: Joel Burgess | jburgess@gannett.com

 

Katherine Joyce
kjoyce@ncasa.net
(919) 828-1426