ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Riverdale Elementary students returned to class Thursday morning at a high school 7 miles away because officials with Orange County Public Schools believe the building, which sustained significant flood damage from Hurricane Ian, is still unsafe.
East River High School will temporarily house the elementary students and staff as a contractor works to clean and sanitize Riverdale Elementary.
“We recognize this is not an ideal situation, but it is our only feasible option to keep educational continuity and get our students back in school as soon as possible,” Riverdale Elementary Principal Bill Charlton wrote in a message to parents.
As Riverdale Elementary teachers and staff toured the high school and received keys to their temporary classrooms earlier this week, the school district’s transportation and food services departments made arrangements to assist the displaced students.
An open house was held at East River High School on Wednesday to provide parents with additional information, though parents expressed concerns about their young children being exposed to older teens.
Ana Dehoyos took her granddaughter to see the high school Wednesday evening and said she feels the children are too young to be near high school students.
“Elementary kids with a high school, that’s a little bit concerning. They are small kids, so how is this going to work?” Dehoyos said. “Things happen. They are not going to be there with every kid constantly. So where’s the guarantee of the safety of the kids and being exposed to so much stuff of high schoolers?”
Ally Lopez’s son Keanu is a 4th-grade student, and she’s worried her son will be in the proximity of older students.
“I’m not even going to lie: that was a fear of mine. My son is only 10 years old, and he is going to be going to be around 17-, 16-year-old kids. How is that going to work?” Lopez said.
Jeanette Flores said parents didn’t have a choice in the matter and fears traffic delays while bringing her child to school several miles away.
“We got a text, and we got a message from the school (that) we are now going to be going to East River, and it was just like a little bit like, ‘Oh, OK, well, we have to make adjustments in some ways,’” Flores said.
Jodi Figueroa said her daughter is in 5th grade, and she’s concerned her daughter will witness behavior from high school students that forces her to have certain conversations with her young child that she doesn’t want to have this soon.
“Exposure, a lot of things that small kids are going to be exposed to too soon,” Figueroa said.
Aziz Alghamdi brought his 5-year-old daughter to East River High School on Thursday, that’s where she’ll be taking classes while crews repair Riverdale Elementary. Orange County Public Schools said about 605 elementary students are now at the high school.
“I told her that her school was damaged because of the flood, and she understands that she’s going to attend this school for a while and then go back. I don’t think it’s going to affect her, it’s a new adventure for her,” Alghamdi said.
Chrissy Colon dropped off her 5th grade daughter, who was nervous about coming to a high school campus.
“She was afraid at first but then she adapted quickly to the idea she was like okay well maybe this is like a little challenge for her that she’s going to overcome,” Colon said.
Orange County Public Schools said on Thursday “all went very well this morning with Riverdale students returning to school”
School district officials do not know when repairs at Riverdale Elementary will be completed but said many items inside the school were salvaged.
Orange County Public Schools reopened 209 schools Tuesday, less than a week after Hurricane Ian forced campuses across Central Florida to close.
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