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Thousands Of Students Wait To Return To Class After Hurricane Michael


Thousands of students in Florida are waiting to know when they can return to their classrooms as the Panhandle tries to recover from Hurricane Michael. That storm severely damaged more than half of the schools in Bay County and left them with no electricity or water. For some, all that remains are foundation walls. Steve Moss is vice chairman of the Bay County School Board. He joins us on the line from Panama City. Mr. Moss, thanks so much for being with us.

STEVE MOSS: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What do you need now?

MOSS: Well, the educational needs of our students are still kind of taking a backseat to just the humanitarian needs that they have, just the basics - food, shelter, clothing, water and just the basic needs of life.

SIMON: Yeah. Do you have anything resembling a timeline as to when you may reopen the schools?

MOSS: We hope maybe mid-November. If you saw the devastation, that's really an aggressive timeline because so many of our schools don't have power or running water or electricity or any of those - Internet service - any of those things you normally see at a school. So we do want to make sure all of our seniors graduate on time and that most of our students are able to promote to the next grade level. So to be able to do that, we need to start as soon as we can for sure.

SIMON: Mr. Moss, how do you handle the fact that - I'm sure a lot of students are in families who have lost their homes. And they're staying with relatives or had to move to other places. And your districts must be all mixed up by now.

MOSS: It really is. And for most of our communities, we have basically 36 schools, about 26,000 students in our school district. And there are several cities within our county. And within each of those cities, the school is oftentimes the hub of that community. Especially for a lot of our students, that school not only with the hub of that community but that one safe place that they could rely on because oftentimes the home life of our kids is pretty rough. And so we're trying the best we can to rebuild those communities through rebuilding our schools as fast as we can. But for a lot of our students, it will take years to get them back to where they were before the hurricane hit.

SIMON: Do you have any schools that escaped damage or at least haven't been hurt so badly that you can't use them?

MOSS: We have between six to 12 that are usable. Here's the dilemma we're coming up with. The schools that are severely damaged we can't use because they don't have power and electricity. The schools that weren't damaged are now being used as shelters for the time being and maybe for the foreseeable future.

SIMON: Mr. Moss, I gather that despite or maybe even because of the considerable losses that you've had and challenges you have, there's still going to be a football game Saturday night.

MOSS: (Laughter) Yes. There will, Scott. And I have a feeling they'll be a lot of folks there that aren't sports fans. But they're coming there just because it's a way for our community to come together through, of all things, a football game.

SIMON: Oh, that sounds nice. Do you have a cheer you can share with us?

MOSS: (Laughter) Well, the team that's playing are the Mosley Dolphins...

SIMON: Yeah.

MOSS: ...Of all things. And so the band will be there playing the fight song. The cheerleaders will be there. And we're trying to have it look as much as a regular football game would be, even though we understand that a lot of athletes that will be playing are living in shelters and do not have a home to return to after the game. But for a lot of our student athletes, their extended family is their team. And so it'll be a way for them to reconnect with their teammates and their extended family on the football field.

SIMON: I don't get a vote, but go Dolphins.

MOSS: (Laughter) I'm with you. Absolutely, Scott (laughter).

SIMON: Steve Moss is vice chairman of Florida's Bay County School Board. Thanks so much for being with us.

MOSS: Thanks, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF BECK SONG, "WHERE IT'S AT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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