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Monday, November 7, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Schools in two big Florida counties reopen after Hurricane Wilma

The Associated Press

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Public schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties reopened today for the first time since Hurricane Wilma damaged classrooms and cut power to millions of people two weeks ago.

Wilma hit Florida on Oct. 24, causing billions of dollars in damage across the state and making many schools temporarily unusable. Children missed more than two full weeks of classes, prompting concerns about how they will make up lost time. The state's largest school district, Miami-Dade County, reopened Thursday.

One major worry is how the delay will affect preparation for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the standardized exam given to students that factors into whether some advance to the next grade or, in the case of high school students, graduate. The FCAT scores also are used to grade schools, and failing performances can ultimately lead to a school's closure.

Wilma forced Broward and Palm Beach teachers to try to get their classrooms in order quickly for today.

Jaime Chehova, a fourth-grade teacher at Park Trails Elementary in Parkland, said she spent every day of the two weeks decorating her new portable classroom. The old one was damaged.

"It was like the first day of school all over again. All the kids' stuff got destroyed. I had to hand out new pens, new books, all new supplies."

She said she spent about 10 minutes this morning talking with the kids about the hurricane. "Then, it was like any other school day," she said.

Cristobal Raveau, 16, a junior at J.P. Taravella High School in Coral Springs, spent most of the time off helping his family move out of their apartment because it suffered water damage and the roof caved in. He said he was happy to be back in school.

"I'm worried about making up the days we missed," he said.

Kelsey Chiavari, another 16-year-old junior, said she did a lot of reading over the break, both for school work and for fun. She had mixed feelings about being back.

"I like to see all my friends but I don't like all the work," she said.

Their principal, Shawn Cerra, said about 90 percent of the student body showed up to class today.

"We're trying to help the kids who were displaced. The teachers are having conversations with them and accessing where the kids are. We're bringing kids down and offering services to them," he said.

The school districts have gotten some help from the state. Gov. Jeb Bush last week waived a state law limiting class sizes for hurricane-affected districts, and granted waivers from the 180-day school year. Students who switch to a public school because of hurricane damage to a private school will also remain eligible for certain scholarships, the governor said.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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