WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - State Superintendent Mark Johnson visited Topsail Elementary Monday morning as the school reopened its doors to students for the first time since Hurricane Florence swept through the region last month.
Schools in Pender County were severely damaged during Florence and her aftermath, with the district recently announcing repairs for its 18 schools would cost more than $12 million. Heide Trask High, North Topsail Elementary, Rocky Point Elementary, Surf City Elementary, Surf City Middle, Topsail Middle and Topsail High also reopened for students Monday morning.
The state has earmarked nearly $60 million in emergency capital funding for public schools damaged by Florence – $25 million from the N.C. Education Lottery fund and $35 million from the state’s rainy-day fund. Pender County Schools is expected to receive nearly $6 million from the lottery fund, with the remaining set to go to four other districts in the eastern part of the state. The state has not announced how the remaining $35 million will be distributed.
“We’re working very closely with the local districts themselves, assessing the damage, seeing where their needs are," Johnson said. "We will be following what insurance pays for and what insurance might not pay for, and then we will be making requests as necessary to help local districts cover the gap that might not be covered by insurance or covered by FEMA. We want to make sure that we help local districts become whole again.”
Courtney Fowler, whose daughter attends Topsail Elementary, said the long closure made the return feel like the start of a new school year.
“I tried my best to keep my daughter as engaged as possible, she did a lot of online work that her teacher provided for her,” Fowler said. “As well as some awesome teachers here in the community did clinics in their neighborhoods even. So, we would go daily and do reading discussion and math work.”
“(School) gives them a sense of normalcy and security,” Kelly Jelley, whose son is a first grader at Topsail Elementary, said. “It’s kind of like the first day of school because we were only in school for two weeks. So he’s adjusting really well, I had to stay an extra few minutes, but glad to be back in the swing of things.”
Burgaw Elementary, Burgaw Middle, Cape Fear Elementary, Cape Fear Middle, Malpass Corner Elementary, Pender High, South Topsail Elementary, and West Pender Middle are expected to reopen for students on Tuesday.
According to Pender County Schools Superintendent Steven Hill, 64 staff members and almost 600 students were displaced by the hurricane.