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How Palm Beach County, Treasure Coast school districts are preparing for storm threat

Schools close if sustained winds are above 35 miles per hour, district leaders say
Palm Beach County School District logo
Posted at 4:53 PM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-23 18:50:10-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — As you prepare your home and family for a potential storm, our area school districts are getting plans in place as well.

"Making sure all of our vehicles are topped off. Our maintenance vehicles we use to check out damage assessments, and the buses if we need to move people from shelter to shelter," said Joseph Sanches, the chief operating officer for the School District of Palm Beach County.

TRACKING THE TROPICS: Hurricane Center | Hurricane Guide

School district leaders are doing some of the same things you are to prepare for the potential impacts of Tropical Depression 9.

"We have crews picking up bulk trash," Sanches said.

The School District of Palm Beach County also has several schools under construction, so loose items there need to be secured.

"We notified them about that today, but the directive will be issued Sunday or Monday because we don't want to lose days of construction if we don't have to," Sanches said.

Sanches said the storm preparation conversations are already underway in Palm Beach County. Top school leaders always have a seat at the table at the Emergency Operations Center and make calculated decisions about when it's time to close schools.

"We look at the wind levels," Sanches said. "If we have sustained winds above 35 miles per hour, we will decide to pull our buses off the road and that would require us to close schools."

"How much advance notice do you try to give if you are going to close school?" WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind asked Sanches.

"As much as possible," Sanches responded. "We know parents have to make decisions about child care issues. Just because school is closed doesn't mean their work is closed."

The county then makes the call about when to open shelters and how many. 15 Palm Beach County public schools can be used as shelters.

"The hurricane shelters are selected because they are built specifically for higher wind loads and we're prepared," Sanches said. "We've been through this before and we're ready."

WPTV on Friday also spoke to Martin County School District leaders who are starting to monitor the system and talk about potential impacts and plans.

"Our team began putting information out to our principals today," said Julie Sessa, the assistant superintendent of human resources for the Martin County School District. "They're going to be taking our radios — 800 megahertz radios — home over the weekend. It's kind of a practice. We do a call-in, a check-in, make sure we get everybody on their radio. They know how to answer it. We have some new staff members, so we're just kind of going through the motions."

School districts in Palm Beach and Martin counties already don't have school on Monday for a fall holiday.

ST. LUCIE COUNTY

St. Lucie Public Schools is preparing for the storm and will monitor it throughout the weekend.

District leaders on Friday held a virtual meeting with school principals to review the district's procedures and protocols.

A district spokeswoman said plant managers are making their initial assessments of campuses to make sure any construction projects are secured, along with outdoor equipment and loose items.

At this point, there is no change to any planned events for next week, including a College Fair on Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Havert L. Fenn Center in Fort Pierce.

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY

The School District of Indian River County is currently not preparing any school campuses for a storm event until the county's Emergency Operations Center directs the district to do so, according to a spokeswoman.

When it comes to potential school closures or delays, Superintendent Dr. David Moore will convene his Cabinet and consult with the district's Hurricane Operations Team and Indian River County's Emergency Operations Center.

Moore will make the final decision over whether to close schools, and that information will be communicated to families through a phone call and on the district's website and social media pages.

OKEECHOBEE COUNTY

WPTV reached out to leaders in the Okeechobee County School District about their storm preparation plans, but has not heard back yet.