Hurricane Florence resulted in the deaths of 39 people in North Carolina, displaced thousands more and destroyed homes. It also wreaked havoc on schools and school calendars. And the effects are still being felt.
In Onslow County, 13 schools remained closed as of Friday; six of them are scheduled to reopen for students Monday, and the remaining seven on Nov. 5. Classes in North Carolina's Craven, Pender and New Hanover counties were also extensively disrupted.
With lots of roof space, large windows and, too often, deferred maintenance, school buildings seem to be especially vulnerable to water. Even a run-of-the-mill thunderstorm can leave ceiling tiles sagging and rows of containers deployed to catch dripping water.
And then there was Florence.
Considering the rainfall totals — 25 inches in Jacksonville, 26 in Wilmington and a state-high 36 in Elizabethtown — and that the rain often was blowing horizontally, it's no wonder so many schools were damaged.
The problem, of course, is that even when the rain stopped, the mold was just getting going.
(It's ironic that Florence dropped 8 trillion gallons of rain on North Carolina and toppled thousands of trees, yet one of the worst culprits is a microscopic fungi spore.)
Now school systems face the challenge of making up vital instruction time. The good news is that the General Assembly, which mandates 185 annual school days, passed emergency legislation that exempts 20 of those days for schools in federal disaster areas. The legislation does not require school systems to use the exemptions, but having them available adds needed flexibility for administrators who have faced — and, for many, still face — overwhelming logistical challenges.
In New Hanover County, North Carolina, 17 days were missed during Florence. With the exemption, legally, those days do not have to be made up. But, as Superintendent Tim Markley noted recently, "NHCS is in the business of educating students, and just like with any other business, we have to do whatever is possible to make up our losses."
In hard-hit Onslow County, North Carolina, even with the 20-day exemption available, it's going to be a struggle to make up time — some students will have missed 38 days.
As school systems revise calendars, we urge them to be mindful of the fact that the people they serve — as well as school employees — have been through a catastrophe. Many students and teachers lost homes and possessions, and mental and financial stress remain high. We hope school officials give as much consideration to those needs as they do to securing every available hour of class time.
As parents of students ourselves, the Sun Journal's editorial board would prefer time be made up by adding full days rather than by tacking on extra minutes each day. We've finally gotten back to somewhat normal routines — including sleep — and would rather not see arrival or dismissal times shifting.
We do not envy the task that administrators face with calendar revisions. And even though most schools have been made safe enough to reopen, it doesn't mean all repairs have been made or that all the cleanup finished. Plenty of challenges remain.
Meanwhile, school employees deserve our thanks and our help. We'd suggest the biggest way parents of schoolchildren can help is by doubling down on education work done at home. Extra reading, vocabulary drills, math exercises, etc., at home can help make up for lost class time.
Finally, we think it's important to acknowledge that some tough decisions will have to be made and that not everyone will like them.
Brent Anderson, the director of community affairs for Onslow County Schools, made a very wise observation: "Something we have got to realize is that this is not going to be a normal year."
We suspect few people would disagree.
REPRINTED FROM THE NEW BERN SUN JOURNAL