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Florida Will Waive Two Teaching Days for Districts Closed Because of Hurricane Irma

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on Tuesday said that she was waiving up to two teaching days for districts that were closed because of Hurricane Irma.

The powerful storm, which slammed into Florida on Sept. 10, plunged huge sections of the state into darkness, caused widespread flooding, and led to the closure of more than half of the state's county-wide school systems.

While most districts were expected to open this week, some, including the Collier and Lee county school systems, remain closed Wednesday and were expected to reopen on Monday. Schools in Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys where Hurricane Irma had the first of two landfalls, are expected to have staggered openings beginning next Monday and continuing through Oct. 2.

Lack of electricity and flooding were huge issues for superintendents as they worked to reopen after the storm, but meeting the required number of instructional minutes was also a worry at the back of their minds.

Florida requires that schools have 180 "actual teaching days," or the equivalent in hours, to participate in the state's school finance program, according to the commissioner's memo to superintendents on Tuesday. The state administrative code also requires that districts provide at least 720 net instructional hours for students in kindergarten through third grade and at least 900 hours for students in grades 4 through 12.

Districts can amend their calendars as needed—by shortening vacations, using teacher-planning days as instructional days, and changing the school calendar—to meet the required number of teaching hours. If districts can meet state requirements by making those adjustments, they do not need to apply to the state department of education for a waiver, Stewart said. The deadline to apply is Oct. 16.

Stewart also noted theĀ "critical role" that school facilities and employees played as the storm pummeled the state. (Many schools served as emergency shelters during and after the storm, and school employees worked around the clock, in some cases, to staff emergency shelters.)

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