- The U.S. Department of Education will send $1.25 million to the Bay District Schools in the Florida Panhandle — hit by Category 5 Hurricane Michael last October — to spend on social workers and other mental health services for students, officials announced Wednesday.
- The funds will come from the Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) program, which is intended to help districts “recover from a violent or traumatic event.” “Many in Bay County are still working to recover emotionally,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a press release. “This SERV grant will help fill that need.”
- In April, district Superintendent Bill Husfelt implored members of Congress to put aside politics and approve more recovery funds to support district operations. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has also signed a state budget that includes $12.4 million for the district, which will prevent layoffs.
A statement from the district said "we are sincerely grateful to every single person and agency who is playing a part in our recovery. Our needs, however, continue to outweigh the support we have and so we will continue to try to leverage all of the resources possible to serve our children, their families and our employees."
And while the additional funds will provide relief for the district, a survey released this week by Rebuild 850, a coalition of organizations encouraging reinvestment in the region, shows that many residents in the rest of the state assumed that life in Bay County had returned to normal a long time ago.
But even several months after the storm, which blew away entire sections of some school campuses, mounds of debris were still lining major thoroughfares, and many families remained without permanent housing. Because community-based mental health agencies were also closed following the storm, district leaders said they were struggling to refer students experiencing trauma and behavioral issues for additional services.
Administrators whose schools could no longer be occupied also took on new leadership roles focusing on locating students who had not yet returned to school after the storm and overseeing donations for schools and families.