Florida colleges work to recover from Hurricane Ian

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Florida colleges are at different stages of recovery after Hurricane Ian hit the state with heavy rain, storm surges and winds just shy of a Category 5 storm. 

Some institutions are holding classes, while others are unsure when they will be able to welcome students back to campuses that closed before Ian arrived. Here’s a rundown of how a handful of the state’s institutions are doing.

In anticipation of the storm, Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black nonprofit institution in Daytona Beach, issued a mandatory campus evacuation, canceling classes Sept. 26 and temporarily switching to asynchronous remote learning.

Now, university leaders are assessing the damage. They have not yet set a return date for students and faculty. The campus will remain closed at least through the end of the week.

“We are not only sensitive to the implications of keeping the campus closed and its impact on your academic studies and the academic year in general but also realize that events like these are traumatic for all of us,” said Lawrence Drake, interim president of Bethune-Cookman, in a Monday letter. “Even though we care a great deal about your academic standing, we care just as much about your well-being.”

The University of South Florida, in Tampa, fared better. It resumed classes Oct. 3, with missed exams and assignments to be rescheduled at a later date. The residence halls at both its Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses are open, and students have 24/7 access to mental health services, either in person or online.

Any faculty members or students unable to get back on campus should contact their supervisors and instructors as soon as possible, according to the university.

“Please keep in mind there is going to be considerable displacement, stress and challenges for students after the storm passes,” a university FAQ said. “Faculty members and supervisors are asked to be patient and understanding with their students and staff during these unique circumstances.”

Florida Gulf Coast University, in Fort Myers, is tentatively set to restart classes Oct. 10. Students can elect to take their classes pass-fail for the semester, and the university has created a new academic calendar, which includes classes on the weekends to make up for 10 days of lost instruction.

“This was the best possible alternative to getting a full semester,” Michael Martin, president of Florida Gulf Coast, said about the new calendar in a video update Wednesday. “No one on this campus, no one in this community, no one in the state has gone unscathed by the hurricane that blew through here a few days ago. But we’re working to bounce back.”

In Orlando, the University of Central Florida has created a Hurricane Ian disaster leave pool for faculty and staff. Eligible employees can take up a week off through Nov. 3. University staff members have reached out to all students directly via email and phone, and they are reviewing requests for Student Emergency Fund Grants.

The university is offering support for students facing housing challenges caused by the storm. Beginning on Oct. 9, students can sign up for two or four weeks of temporary housing at several hotels within a 3-mile radius of campus. Spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

The University of Central Florida, which returned to normal operations Oct. 3, has also partnered with the Central Florida Transit Authority to allow students to commute on a shuttle system for free.

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