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Bay area school officials keep an eye on Tropical Storm Isaac

6:41 PM, Aug 23, 2012   |    comments
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Madeira Beach, Florida - Tampa Bay school district officials from Sarasota County to Citrus County and out east to Polk say they are in a "wait and see" mode. But when you have schools like Madeira Beach Fundamental in a flood zone, you can be sure Tropical Storm Isaac is on school official's radar and preliminary planning is taking place.

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"The earliest we could make a decision is Sunday," says Michael Bessette, Pinellas' Associate Superintendent of Operational Services. Bessette says school principals will receive a district email Friday asking they take some early precautions.

"Pick up loose items outside like garbage cans that are out there, move it inside, make sure doors and windows are closed tightly, electronic equipment moved away from glass if you can. If not, cover with plastic," says Bessette.

District officials are waiting to see what path Isaac takes after it crosses Haiti and Cuba. If it gets too close to the Bay area, school closings are possible.

Official Forecast: From the National Hurricane Center
More Weather Coverage: Tracking the tropics with 10 News

Bessette says, "The district follows the lead of the Pinellas Emergency Operations Center. The Disaster Advisory Committee will determine if we open shelters. We are the primary shelters."

"We have 28 schools that are shelters," says Michael Hewett, Director of Maintenance for Pinellas Schools.

A district warehouse stores a palette for each school with its shelter needs. School maintenance crews have 12 hours to get ready.

"Everything from temporary lighting, extension cords, glow sticks, duct tape including plywood," says Hewett.

But the school district may decide on its own to close schools if roads are flooded and winds are high.

"Our rule of thumb: buses not on the road if sustained winds are 35 miles per hour," explains Bessette.

If schools are closed, Bay area school districts will post updates on their websites. Hillsborough has set up a weather page with links to local media including its own social media sites on Facebook and Twitter. Parents will also be notified by phone and email.

Kelly Parthenars, a parent with two children at Madeira Beach Fundamental says, "As a parent, if I haven't heard anything, I will do what's best for my kids. If it's not safe driving on the road, if I think it's not safe later in the day, I'll keep them home."

Pinellas school officials say if needed, they are looking at closing schools either Monday or Tuesday but again, that all depends on what Isaac does. Most school districts such as Pinellas Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk have hurricane days built into their school calendar those that don't such as Sarasota would have to make up those days by extending the school year.

Isabel Mascarenas

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