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Private Schools in Fla., La. Recovering From Storm

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Independent and parochial schools in Florida and Louisiana last week were assessing the damage caused by Hurricane Andrew and making plans to reopen.

Eight Florida independent schools that sustained significant structural damage from the hurricane have already reopened or are planning to do so this week or next, school officials said last week.

As classes start amid flattened buildings, waterlogged computers, and hobbled telephone systems, those Florida independent schools unscathed by the storm have formed a network to provide assistance to less fortunate private schools in the form of cleanup crews and much-needed supplies.

Meanwhile, Catholic schools in both states that were blasted by the hurricane in late August are also making plans to reopen.

Like the independent schools, none were known to be closing permanently due to storm damage, said Robert J. Kealey, the executive director of the department of elementary schools at the National Catholic Educational Association in Washington.

For example, seven of the 35 schools in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, La., sustained significant damage--including whole roofs being peeled off a gymnasium and a cafeteria--but all had reopened by last week, said Gerald M. Dill, the diocesan director of education and communications.

Many campuses that opened in mid-August for school found themselves shuttered for as long as three weeks, Mr. Dill said. Total damage at the seven diocesan schools is estimated at $1.5 million.

In the neighboring Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, the damage was less extensive. Three diocesan schools that together suffered $100,000 in roof, water, and equipment damage were shut for more than a week until Sept. 8 after the hurricane roared through, said Sister Immaculata Paisant, a school administrator.

$3 Million in Damage

Among the hardest hit of the independent schools in Florida's Dade County was Palmer Trinity School, a college-preparatory school with 340 students in grades 6 to 12.

The 22-acre campus, which may have sustained nearly $3 million in damage, is nonetheless expected to reopen this week.

The hurricane sheared away all or part of the roofs from the main classroom building, the library, and an administration wing, said Headmaster Edward A. Dougherty.

The gymnasium "had its roof blown off and its back blown out,'' he said, and 6,000 square feet of modular structures that had housed the school's art department were "all blown away,'' he said.

The school's athletic fields were covered with a foot of seawater after the surging storm moved part of Biscayne Bay one mile inland. While the baseball field must be rebuilt, Mr. Dougherty said, a football game was still scheduled at the school last week despite the loss of goal posts and scoreboards on that field.

Some Palmer Trinity students have withdrawn from school at least in part because the facilties were so badly damaged, Mr. Dougherty said. However, the school has also gained some students who wanted out of those public schools that were forced into split sessions to accommodate two schools' worth of students.

The independent-school assistance network has already helped Palmer Trinity by donating badly needed new desks.

The school is encouraging its sister schools in Florida, as well as those that have offered help from New Hampshire and Chicago, to "adopt a department'' and send specific items such as a pottery wheel or athletic gear and sports uniforms.

Cleanup Crews at Work

The independent-schools assistance network--coordinated in Dade County by Joan Lutton, the head of the Cushman School--has grown out of some individual efforts.

Shortly after the storm subsided, 50 people from the undamaged Benjamin School in North Palm Beach--including students, faculty members, and even the board's chairman--arrived at hard-hit St. John's Episcopal School in Homestead to help clean up, said C. Skardon Bliss, the executive secretary of the Florida Council of Independent Schools, who joined the crew.

"They were in rough shape,'' Mr. Bliss said of St. John's, which sustained extensive roof damage and had library materials ruined. "The place was a mess.''

Some of the older students from the nursery-to-12th-grade Benjamin School "hit the deck running,'' cleaning out debris-strewn, waterlogged classrooms and restoring a bit of order, he said.

The Benjamin School and the F.C.I.S. have together collected more than $11,000 to help St. John's rebuild, Mr. Bliss added.

Parents' Tuition Woes

Unique to private schools is the post-storm struggle some families now face in making their tuition payments after losing employment because of the hurricane.

Five students at Palmer Trinity are in "bad financial shape'' and are no longer able to pay tuition, Headmaster Dougherty said. The school hopes it can raise the funds to close the gap.

Some parents of students at Atlantis Academy, a school for the learning-disabled that includes pre-K through grade 12, have also said they are strapped for the annual $7,600 tuition, according to Letitia Tepper, a co-director of the Miami school.

"Obviously, we're not going to turn anybody away,'' she said, adding that she hoped fund-raising would allow the school to support those students.

The state's independent-school council is also hoping to raise money to assist now-jobless parents with tuition as well as to help schools pay insurance deductibles, Mr. Bliss said.

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