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Despite sheriff slamming 'whining' residents, Marion schools to reopen

'I will shut down every school to protect the citizens of eastern Marion County'

MARION COUNTY, Fla. – In an about-face announcement, officials said Marion County schools will reopen Thursday, after the county announced earlier this week that they would remain closed through the week due to Hurricane Dorian.

County officials updated the community on the change of plans Wednesday morning with the release of the following statement:

"As you know, Hurricane Dorian's unpredictable path convinced Marion County Emergency Management officials to open some of our schools as shelters. Fortunately, Hurricane Dorian did NOT impact our area, which means shelters will close. As a result, our schools will be open tomorrow and Friday. Again, with Marion County Emergency Management officials closing shelters, we are pleased to reopen our schools Thursday and Friday to welcome back our students, teachers, administrators, and our entire MCPS family. 
We realize some families may be out of town based on earlier announcements, and we encourage those families to remain safe as they journey home throughout the week.
Returning our schools to classrooms of learning after they've served as safe shelters is the right thing to do so our community can return to normalcy.  
We're excited to welcome everyone back! 
Thanks for your time, and have a great day."

Up until Wednesday's announcement, schools were still expected to remain closed for the rest of the week. On Tuesday Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said residents needed to stop "whining" about the county's decision to keep schools closed through Friday.

Woods posted a video to Facebook Tuesday night explaining the initial decision and telling citizens to stop the complaints.

"Apparently my county commissioners, the school board and here at the emergency management center we're getting phone calls regarding and asking and questioning why are the schools closed this week. 'This county's closing theirs, this county's shutting down this.' This is Marion County, I don't care about the other counties. I care about every citizen that lives in this county," Woods said.

[Scroll to the bottom of this story to watch the video]

He acknowledged that because Marion County is 1,600 square miles, there's a good chance that people in some cities, such as Dunnellon, would feel little to no impact as Dorian crawled along the coast but he emphasized the importance of protecting citizens in areas that could see some damage.

"And here's the problem: tropical force winds, the potential of it hitting east Marion County is good. They're going to get up to 50 to 60 mph winds and I will not leave the people east of the river ... I will protect them as much as I will protect the ones that are standing right here in this building," Woods said.

The sheriff explained that officials have to consider the county as a whole when making decisions about closures.

"When it comes to closing these schools, unfortunately, we can't just close one school and keep all the other schools open if I open one shelter. If one shelter gets open -- and that's where our shelters are, is in our schools, and our school district does a fabulous job when it comes to these shelters, their employees step to the plate. But unfortunately there are some employees, whether it be mine, the county's or the school board's, that complain about the way it's set up with the closing of these schools. I will shut down every school to protect the citizens of eastern Marion County," Woods said.

He ended the video with a stern message.

"You need to stop the whining. I'm being frank and I'm being honest and every one of you know that I am and I will not hold back. You need to stop because these citizens need to be protected," Woods said.

You can watch his message in its entirety in the media player below: 

A MESSAGE FROM SHERIFF BILLY WOODS

Hello Marion County citizens, I’m Sheriff Billy Woods and I come on here today to speak to my citizens who are having a problem with schools being closed for the week. We, the County Commission, School Board and Emergency Management, have all received calls on this and let me explain something to you, the ones who are complaining; you feel we aren’t going to get any bit of this storm, however, what you see on the news is for the whole state of Florida, here in Emergency Management our updates are specifically for Marion County. These updates have shown thus far that our eastern most part of the county is projected to get Tropical Storm winds. Let me break it down a little further so you can get the whole picture, the eastern most part of this county is approximately 38 miles away from the shore line, and this Hurricane is 255 miles wide, so do the math. Unfortunately, we cannot just close one school to open a shelter, once one school is closed, all the schools are closed and our school system does a fantastic job running these shelters. I will do what needs to be done to protect my citizens, and if that means shutting down every school to open shelters in order to keep citizens safe then I will shut the schools down. You need to stop and think, if you lived on the eastern part of this county, would you not want to know you were being protected? Citizens, please be safe during this storm. We will continue to update you and keep you as safe as we can.

Posted by Marion County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Central Florida was spared of major damage from Dorian as it made a close pass to the east coast of the state.

School officials said in the Wednesday announcement that getting school back in session was the right thing to do for the sake of normalcy in Marion County schools.

Anyone who left the area ahead of Dorian based on the county's previous announcements is encouraged to return home safely, officials said in the statement.

County officials said they're excited to welcome students and staff back to school Thursday morning.

To see a full list of school closures in Central Florida, click here.


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