Johnston County students won’t return to classes this week, but their teachers will, if they choose.
The Johnston school board made that decision Tuesday afternoon. Earlier in the day, Superintendent Ross Renfrow and his cabinet had hashed out the obstacles of reopening schools.
For teachers, who have optional workdays through Friday, the return to work could deal more in cleanup and recovery than lesson planning. On Monday, nearly two-thirds of the district’s schools were still without power or water, but conditions improved dramatically through the night. By 10 a.m. Tuesday, just eight schools were still waiting for utilities to come back online, and within an hour, that number stood at just two, Clayton Middle School and Meadow School.
Princeton Middle/High School saw the worst of the flooding in the school system, with two inches of water filling the first floor of the school, Chief operations officer Patrick Jacobs said during Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
“The flooding was extensive on the first floor of the main building; (a cleanup company) had to cut out Sheetrock and cabinetry and things of that nature,” Jacobs said. “Most of the other schools had some flooding, ceiling tiles, roof leaks, the normal things we have.”
Beyond the schools themselves, the biggest obstacle to normalcy is the roads parents and buses use to bring students to school. Jacobs quoted a figure from the N.C. Department of Transportation that 80 percent of Johnston’s rural roads sustained some amount of damage. The computer program the school district uses to determine the most efficient route for buses is currently not running, which combined with the damaged roads means the school system doesn’t yet know the best way to get some students to school.
To underscore the severity of the road situation, Jacobs said one of his employees was taking a generator to his grandfather’s house during the storm when the road washed out under him. The worker, who had to be airlifted to WakeMed, suffered broken legs and ribs and needed 300 stitches, Jacobs said.
Perhaps the worst-hit building was Facility Services, the school system’s maintenance building at West Market Street and N.C. 210 in Smithfield, Jacobs said. Around a foot and a half of standing water was inside the building, he said, and a number of utility vehicles were covered with water.
“It was 100 percent underwater,” Jacobs said. “We moved most of our fleet Sunday to the front parking lot. Unfortunately, it flooded all the way out to Highway 210. Several of the vehicles were totally submerged. Some are still there; we just couldn’t get to them.”
School officials suggested an indefinite halt to middle school athletics but said high school sports teams might be able to resume optional practices this week, though games appear unlikely.
“We’re not going to put anyone in harm’s way for the sake of a ball game or a practice,” Superintendent Ross Renfrow said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson