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Some Eastern Iowa Schools Delay Start Dates, Others Still Assessing Damage

Kate Payne
IPR News
Monday's derecho storm has caused significant and widespread damage across the state, downing trees and power lines, and crushing some homes and cars.

Some eastern Iowa school districts are moving back their start dates in the wake of Monday’s powerful and destructive derecho storm system. Others are still assessing the damage, which in some cases is structural and significant.

Monday’s derecho wreaked havoc throughout eastern Iowa, its hurricane-force winds leaving behind a wide trail of significant destruction to homes, apartment buildings, cars and some schools.

Districts already bracing for a historic pandemic that has upended nearly every aspect of public life, are now faced with assessing and stabilizing school buildings and facilities, damaged by the ferocious storm.

The Clinton and North Linn Community School Districts have already decided to push back their first day of school because of Monday’s storm, to August 19th and August 24th, respectively.

Gary DeLacy, superintendent of Clinton schools, said he and his district have been relatively lucky, with no major damage. Still, as of Wednesday afternoon, three out of six school buildings didn’t have power.

DeLacy says the scale of the storm’s destruction is staggering, and unlike anything he’s experienced in his lifetime.

“I’ve never seen a storm like this [...] I’ve never seen the city hit like this.”
- Gary DeLacy, Superintendent, Clinton Community Schools

“I’ve never seen a storm like this,” he said, saying trees in his community were especially devastated by the intense and sustained winds, leaving roads impassable. “I’ve never seen the city hit like this.”

While DeLacy said school facilities in Clinton did not sustain the damage that others have, he said the decision to delay is also meant to allow families, teachers and staff to deal with their own damaged homes and property, as thousands still wait for the restoration of power, internet and cell service.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 315,882 Iowans were still without electricity, according to poweroutage.us.

Other districts across Marshall, Tama, Benton and Linn Counties are still gauging the scale of the damage, which includes partially collapsed roofs, classrooms littered with ceiling tiles, crumpled bleachers and sheds, and downed trees and power lines.

Benton Community Schools Superintendent Pamela Ewell posted an update to the district’s website Wednesday, saying all facilities are closed until further notice.

“We have a lot of trees and highline wires down across our county. We are thinking about and praying for all of our families and the damage to homes and farms from the derecho storm that hit Monday. As far as we know, everyone is safe,” her statement reads. “Cell service Monday and yesterday was nonexistent. Power still out. Our school buildings sustained some roof and water damage and we are working with our adjuster, roofing company, and cleaning/restoration.”

Center Point-Urbana Schools posted on its social media on Tuesday that the district’s server is down and staff have “limited to no accessibility to email and / or internet." With few other options, administrators at one point resorted to working out of the City of Urbana Community Center, according to the update.

Multiple Linn County districts are still considering delaying their start dates, pending further assessments of the damage.

"We have a lot of trees and highline wires down across our county. We are thinking about and praying for all of our families and the damage to homes and farms from the derecho storm that hit Monday. As far as we know, everyone is safe. Cell service Monday and yesterday was nonexistent. Power still out."
- Pamela Ewell, Superintendent, Benton Community Schools

“Linn-Mar has received substantial damage across the district as a result of Monday’s storm. We are still in the process of assessing the extent of the damage at this time. A delayed start to the school year is something that is being considered. This decision, along with updated Return to Learn plans, will be shared next week,” reads a statement posted on Linn-Mar Community Schools’ Facebook page on Wednesday.

A Cedar Rapids Community School spokeswoman said the district is grateful that no one at the district was injured due to the storm. Still, the district sustained damage to nearly two dozen buildings.

“Our district did incur damage to over 20 school buildings; some with minor roof issues and others with significant roof and structural damage. Similar to our entire community, we will be assessing how to move forward with contractors and logistics within a natural disaster environment,” reads a statement from CRCSD Director of Communications Colleen Scholer. “We recognize there are many questions around how this relates to the school start date. There are several factors to consider and information will be forthcoming.”

The South Tama County Community School District is reporting that, like others, impacts to staff members’ own homes and property have been significant.

“Many of our staff members have reported sustaining serious damage to their homes," reads a statement on the district’s Facebook page. “[W]e are asking that employees focus on their own homes or assist other family members and neighbors.”

Eager to reconnect teachers with students and gauge their educational and personal needs after an incredibly difficult spring, Clinton Superintendent Gary DeLacy said his district is craving a sense of normalcy. Monday’s storm crushed that hope, along with so much else.

The derecho, as powerful as an inland hurricane, has killed at least two people and has devastated communities already knocked to their knees by the coronavirus and the ensuing economic crisis.

”Our hearts go out to everybody in the state of Iowa,” said DeLacy. “Bottom line is, we as Iowans can pull together and we’ll get through.”

“Just like the pandemic, we’ll get through it,” he said.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter