UPDATE: Classes cancelled for year for some Van students

School facility damage in Van, as seen from a cellular phone tower. (Courtesy Texas Cellnet of Van)

Van Independent School District campuses will be closed the rest of the week, according to Superintendent Don Dunn.

Dunn announced Tuesday via Facebook and a 3 p.m. news conference that Van ISD is seeking two waivers from the Texas Education Agency.

The waivers would dismiss all kindergarten through third-grade classes for the remainder of the year and postpone STAAR reading tests for fifth and eighth graders, which were scheduled for today. Pending approval of those waivers, Dunn asked parents to be prepared to care for students.

"This is a difficult time for our district and our community," he wrote. "Please be patient with us as we work to get back on our feet."

Van ISD officials hope to return to normal operations as soon as possible following Sunday's tornado.

Van ISD school board president Charles McCaffree said the school year will go on for most students. McCaffree said he expects classes for middle and high school students to resume Monday, pending repairs to enough buses to accomodate students.

"Our people assure us they will have enough buses road-ready to pick up students," he said. "If not, we'll cross that bridge when we get there, but we expect to hold classes on those campuses Monday."

McCaffree said the school board put the discretion and decision-making in administrators' hands during an emergency school board meeting Monday evening. 

School officials are talking with Texas Education Agency officials to determine what type of waivers they would have to file for the lost instruction days and to maintain student athletes' eligibility, as the softball and baseball teams continue in the playoffs.

"We want to return to normalcy or as close to normalcy as possible," he said. "The kids need to have it as close to normal as we can make it. Their lives have been interrupted enough."

McCaffree said May is jam packed with school events, from banquets to graduation ceremonies, and school officials are working to make sure they go on as scheduled. Choir students leave for New York Wednesday, he said. The all-sports banquet scheduled for May 19 at the high school is expected to continue as planned.

J.E. Rhodes Elementary school, the adjacent intermediate school, the district's administration office and a maintenance building received heavy damage from the storm. The maintenance building, which was part of a near-$40 million 2006 bond package, was leveled.

"The only way I could describe it is that a bomb went off," Dunn said Monday after surveying the damage.

The majority of the bond package went toward construction of a new middle school and additions to the high school, which were not damaged by the storm.

Insurance assessors, architects and construction managers are on the scene or en route to investigate the scope of the damage and create plans for recovery, whether it means rebuilding or repairing the schools.

Debbie Ratcliffe, TEA director of media relations, said tornadoes represent a valid reason to apply for missed instructional day waivers but that the agency rarely grants more than a 10-day waiver.

Other options include housing classes in neighboring school districts, as schools in West did in 2013, following the fertilizer plant explosion, or to house classes in churches or city facilities.

McCaffree said communications with the TEA have been progressing surprisingly well, and he expects to receive an answer regarding the waivers Wednesday.

Twitter: @newsboyAdam

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