Tampa Bay counties shut down schools ahead of Tropical Storm Idalia landfall
Hurricane Evacuation Route Road Sign on blue with arrow

Hurricane Evacuation Route Road Sign on blue with arrow
Hurricane-proof school buildings are needed to house evacuees.

Recognition of Tropical Storm Idalia’s growing threat has shut down school operations throughout Tampa Bay’s counties.

Hernando County was the first to make the call, as schools did not open Monday. Citrus County Schools closed at noon, as did four schools in Manatee County.

The storm is expected to make landfall north of Tampa Bay sometime early Wednesday, but storm surge probabilities for the entire area have emergency officials eyeing school buildings for shelter, particularly as mandatory evacuation orders go out.

At 11 a.m., Hillsborough County, the state’s third-largest largest school district, announced they would shut down schools at least through Wednesday.

“The latest forecast brings TS Idalia up the west coast of Florida with storm surges and heavy rains expected by Tuesday evening and all-day Wednesday,” Tanya Arja, schools’ spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “With that in mind, county emergency officials have made the decision to activate some of our schools as storm shelters to house evacuees that are in flood zones.”

Among coastal Tampa Bay counties, Manatee was the last hold out for a complete closure through Wednesday. On Sunday evening, the district had announced that closures would be limited to Nolan Middle, Freedom Elementary, Miller Elementary and Mills Elementary schools closing at noon Monday, with no further direction. But then the word went out that all Manatee County schools and support sites would be closed through Wednesday.

The timing produced some aggravation among the school districts’ constituents, reflecting some of the feelings of vulnerability among the populace.

“Last to announce as always,” Starr Kendall-Cronin wrote on Pinellas County Schools’ Facebook announcement about the closure. “Pinellas is a peninsular county, on a peninsular state. What is WRONG with y’all.”

Polk County, unlike most of the rest of the Tampa Bay, will be closed Wednesday and Thursday, instead of Tuesday and Wednesday.

State-run higher education institutions in Tampa Bay are following suit.

Pasco-Hernando State College will close at 5 p.m. Monday and plans to remain closed through Wednesday.

New College of Florida has canceled Tuesday classes.

St. Petersburg College will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

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