Robeson schools to reopen more than a month after Florence

— After being closed for more than a month because of damage from Hurricane Florence, Robeson County schools will reopen Tuesday.

About 23,000 students in the county have been out of class for almost five weeks, and teachers spent Monday making final preparations for the restart to the school year.

Water didn‘t get into the newer part of W.H. Knuckles Elementary School, on Martin Luther King Drive, but the cafeteria was flooded. So breakfast and lunch will be served for the foreseeable future in a make-shift cafeteria in the gym.

Before Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016, nearly 300 students attended Knuckles Elementary, but that number was cut in have after that storm. The school picked up students from West Lumberton Elementary School, which has been permanently closed.

Teachers said they are ready to help students cope with the aftermath of two hurricanes in less than two years.

“I know it‘s going to be an adjustment for them. We‘re going to have to have patience and let them talk through what they went through, because a lot of them were already displaced that are coming back to Knuckles for the first time,” teacher Sandra Clements said.

Students aren‘t the only ones trying to cope. Knuckles Elementary has sentimental value for Jean McCall, who attended the school and now teaches music there.

“Seeing Florence come back so suddenly [after Matthew], it has really – it hurts,” McCall said.

Area schools have lost 24 days of class time. State lawmakers have approved waiving up to 20 of those days, but school district officials will have to figure out how to make up the rest.

“We‘re trying to just get the kids in the schools, and the board and I will have serious conversations in the next few weeks to decide what we need to do, how we can make up instructional time,” Superintendent Shanita Wooten said. “If we need to extend days, add extra days to the end of the school year, we‘re going to figure it out and come up with a plan soon.”

The two hurricanes wrecked communities, and residents moved away from neighborhoods marked by floodwater lines and piles of debris.

“If they would just take the trash up,” Lumberton resident Blondella Floyd said, “then maybe it won‘t look so bad and maybe they wouldn‘t feel so bad. But when you come out and see your stuff sitting in front of you, I cry for them and I pray for them.”