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Nearly 3 Weeks After Hurricane, Dade Schools Set To Open

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Children in hurricane-ravaged south Florida were expected to start school this week, with many in crowded schools operating on double sessions.

In Louisiana, meanwhile, students in areas hit hardest by Hurricane Andrew returned to school last week after having as many as 11 days off due to the storm that struck there on Aug. 25.

Despite the destruction caused by Andrew in southern Dade County, Fla., officials said only nine of 287 public school buildings would be closed for the belated start of the academic year on Sept. 14.

Each of the nine schools will be paired with another school. Seven of the pairs will operate on double sessions, with students from the closed schools attending in the afternoon.

State and local officials are scurrying to obtain portable classrooms and hope to move students from the damaged schools into them within a month, said Randy Lewis, an aide to State Commissioner of Education Betty Castor.

Most of the county's schools were damaged during the storm, and the district initially feared that as many as 30 would be unusable.

But nearly all were brought up to par for the target starting date with help from military troops and work crews from schools across Florida. Some, however, will open with wings or gymnasiums cordoned off due to damage.

Henry C. Fraind, the chief spokesman for the district, said it intends to operate as normally as possible.

"We can't forget that the majority of schools are back on line 100 percent,'' he said, noting that only schools in southern Dade County were hard hit. "We're going to try to keep as many programs up and running full speed.''

Total damage to schools in Florida has been estimated at several hundred million dollars.

Louisiana Classes Resume

In St. Mary Parish, La., which sustained the most storm damage in that state, about 11,500 of the school district's 12,000 students returned to school on Sept. 8, according to Lloyd Dressel, the assistant superintendent for business affairs.

About 150 people remain homeless in the parish, Mr. Dressel said, many of them children. Those students were expected to return to school by the end of last week after shoes were delivered to them, he said.

Mr. Dressel said so many students were able to return to classes promptly because the parish spread information about school openings through newspapers, radio, and television.

"We haven't had major complaints,'' he said. "Transportation seems to be going well.''

Mr. Dressel noted that an undetermined number of students are temporarily attending schools they are not assigned to because their families were forced to move.

All 26 schools in the parish sustained damage, but all are being used after being repaired, he said. Six 1st-grade classes are being held in a church hall because one school's wing remains unusable.

In Iberia Parish, all but three of 32 schools opened Sept. 8, and those were expected to open by the end of last week, according to Sonny Baudry, the assistant superintendent.

More than 90 percent of the parish's 15,800 students attended classes when schools reopened.

Officials still do not have an estimate of the cost of damage to the parish's schools.

Federal Response

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved President Bush's proposal to spend more than $7 billion on relief efforts in Florida and Louisiana, including $102.5 million for education.

Of that amount, $40 million would be used for federal student financial aid, $40 million for emergency relief in Dade County, and $22.5 million for school operations and services.

The President earlier pledged that the federal government would assume 100 percent of relief costs for Louisiana, as it did for Florida, rather than the typical 75 percent.

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