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Monday, December 04, 2023

Alachua County’s 40 public schools remained closed Thursday and Friday after the city decided to cancel classes after Hurricane Irma made its way through Florida.

School officials felt traveling to and from school would be too dangerous for students and staff, said Jackie Johnson, an Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson.

“We felt it was the best decision to ensure student safety,” Johnson said. “It was just too iffy, too many question marks.”

While Johnson said safe travel was the primary concern, officials also took into consideration the condition of certain school buildings.

The city has filed hundreds of work permits for flooding and rain damage. The courtyard of Abraham Lincoln Middle School, located at 1001 SE 12th St., saw such massive flooding that Johnson said it has “turned into a lake.”

Other school sites are still in use for managing Irma’s aftermath, Johnson said. Santa Fe High School, as of Thursday, was still being used by county crisis team staff.

To aid families, the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department offered extended hours at city pools for parents to have safe options to house their children while they work, wrote city spokesperson Bob Woods in a press release.

H. Spurgeon Cherry “Westside” Pool, located at 1001 NW 31st Dr., will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. for lap swimming and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for recreational swimming.

Dwight H. Hunter “Northeast” Pool, located at 1100 NE 14th St., will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. for lap swimming and from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. for recreational swimming.

Andrew R. Mickle, Sr. Pool, located at 1717 SE 15th St., will be open from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. for recreational swimming.

For some Alachua County residents, the two days off from school means a call back to summer vacation.

As Karen Schaedel watched her 11-year-old son Xavier and his four friends ride scooters up and down the ramps just outside Westside Pool, she reminisced on the all-day spree she and the five children had.

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Schaedel, a part-time worker with the Williston Veterinary Clinic, said the site still didn’t have power as of Thursday, so she was the parent up to the task of hosting Xavier’s four friends all day while their mothers worked.

Xavier rode his bright neon green scooter up and down the three adjacent scooter ramps alongside 9-year-old Magnolia and 6-year-old Oscar, who wore a helmet in the shape of “Star Wars” character droid BB-8.

Ten-year-old Sam and 9-year-old Piper sat on a nearby bench between pine trees talking about their day, laughing as the others scooted around.

Schaedel, 44, said she’s glad the city made the call to cancel public school. Many residents still don’t have power, and for her family it meant a day that felt like summer vacation again.

“It was a nice, fun summer day,” she said. “I understand it’s a lot for some people, to miss out on a week, but the kids will catch up.”

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