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Alachua County Public Schools will close Thursday as Tropical Storm Nicole upgraded to Category 1 hurricane

Gainesville High School students head out at the end of the school day on Wednesday, Nov. 9. Alachua County Public Schools canceled Thursday classes due to expected impact from Hurricane Nicole. (Caleb Wiegandt/WUFT News)
Gainesville High School students head out at the end of the school day on Wednesday, Nov. 9. Alachua County Public Schools canceled Thursday classes due to expected impact from Hurricane Nicole. (Caleb Wiegandt/WUFT News)

Alachua County Public Schools and the district’s offices will be closed Thursday, the district announced Tuesday in a press release and tweet, as north central Florida braces for impact from Hurricane Nicole. 

Thursday’s closures will not affect the district’s observance of Veteran’s Day on Friday, Public Information Officer Jackie Johnson said in a Tuesday afternoon email. Normal operations will resume on Monday. 

“We don’t know yet what impact it’s going to have on our calendar,” Johnson said in a voicemail Wednesday morning. “We are definitely going to have to make up some time, but how we are going to do that is still to be determined.”

The storm is currently projected to make landfall on Florida’s east coast early Thursday morning as a Category 1 hurricane and will be the first hurricane to hit the state in November in almost 40 years. Projections estimate Hurricane Nicole could reach the Alachua County area sometime Thursday evening.

The National Weather Service issued a tropical storm warning for Alachua County Tuesday afternoon, a measure that was extended to last until midnight Thursday. A hurricane warning for the southeast and east-central coast of Florida was issued Wednesday night.

The University of Florida and Santa Fe College followed Alachua County’s lead; the former announced at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday it would close campus on Thursday, and the latter announced the same at 9:49 a.m. Wednesday.

Nicole comes on the heels of Hurricane Ian, which left a path of destruction in southwest Florida in late September. Ian, a Category 4 storm, ravaged Florida’s west coast and caused more than $50 billion in estimated damage throughout the southeastern United States.  

Eliza Matthias, 18, is a senior at Eastside High School. She said she was conflicted about the cancellations and discouraged about missing another day of her senior year activities. But she said she was glad that the district took swift action to protect students and their families.

“I realize that it is important to keep everybody safe, but it is very frustrating to be missing another day of school,” Matthias said.

Santa Fe High School principal Timothy Wright said he understood the decision to cancel classes.

“No one wants school canceled because of the interruption to the flow of instruction, but the safety of students is paramount and trumps all that,” Wright said. 

“It’s a reality of teaching in the public school system. It’s a reality of living in Florida.”

He noted that although students would not attend classes in person Thursday, Santa Fe’s instruction delivery would only be slightly affected. Since Alachua County has used the Canvas online learning platform since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Santa Fe has continued to use the software to aid in learning.

Wright said his teachers have posted assignments for Thursday to Canvas and students will be able to stay connected just as they are when they are absent for sickness or a family emergency. 

“It has just been an unprecedented benefit that we continue to use today with inclement weather like we’ve been having,” Wright said. 

“Here’s the reality: Nothing can replace missing that instruction, but being able to access the work in real time at least gives our students the ability to begin.” 

Brittany Willis, 32, is a nurse whose two children are in Alachua County schools. She says she is frustrated by the unexpected school closures primarily because it leaves the single mother without plans for her children while she works during the day. 

She too, however, agrees with the decision from a safety standpoint.

“When the decision is made by the district to close schools because of weather, ultimately it’s the best decision,” Willis said. 

“It’s always made with the safety of families and kids in mind.”

Caleb is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.