Tippecanoe schools announce plan for students after tornado damage

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Two rural schools in Tippecanoe County won't reopen for months, perhaps a year, after tornadoes caused significant damage on Sunday.  Classes are canceled Tuesday at three schools.

The storm ripped Southwestern Middle School wide open. Portions of the roof are gone and gymnasium walls are blown out. The neighboring Mintonye Elementary School is also unusable. Heating, cooling and wastewater treatment systems are destroyed.

The district website indicates Woodland Elementary will also not be in session Tuesday.

Custodians from across the district worked hard Monday to clean up debris from the storm. Playgrounds, parking lots and the two entire schools are wrecks.

"We have to get it cleaned up and get kids back in school," said Crystal McFadden, a school custodian.

One worker said she's never seen anything like this.

"Oh, my God, it's devastating. Pictures on TV don't do it justice," said Rose Moe.

Kathryn Wyatt couldn't believe it either.

"I'm just thinking where am I going to get my education? Or am I saying home for a couple of days?" she said.

On Monday, the Tippecanoe School Corporation announced a contingency plan for the 950 students who must be relocated until Southwestern Middle School and Mintonye Elementary School can be repaired.

The district will use space available at First Assembly Community Ministries at 108 Beck Lane to temporarily house students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.

"I kind of find it strange that they're going to be there and I'm kind of surprised they found a place so quickly," says sixth-grader Adam Bogue, who will be attending classes at the church.

"I actually think it's a good thing," said another student's mother, Sheila Gray.

She has an eighth grader who will now attend Wea Ridge Middle School at 4410 South CR 150 East with Southwestern's other seventh- and eighth-graders, making it an easier commute for her family.

Southwestern and Wea Ridge principals are determining how to best meet the educational needs of all students while maintaining each school's identity. Much of First Assembly Community Ministries' 88,000 square feet of space can be configured for classrooms and offices.

"This is a children's ministry area, but it's filled with classrooms, these things that will be changed in the classroom," said Pastor Robby Bradford.

"The church is a terrific facility. They'll do just fine there," says one sixth-grader's mother.

Fiber lines need to be run and they'll plan for office space, too. Desks and equipment should arrive from the schools in the next few days, the pastor said.

Classes have been canceled for Tuesday (Nov. 19) for students at Southwestern Middle and Mintonye Elementary Schools. All other TSC schools will be in session. Southwestern and Mintonye teachers will meet at the administrative building to prepare for classes to resume at those alternative locations on Monday, November 25.

Until then, students will get emails from their teachers on what work to keep up with.

"I think it will be good. I think they will do okay with that," said Gray.

Students will get back into the damaged schools to find their personal things. Information about that can be expected on Tuesday.

"Textbooks I need for class," Bogue said.

"And your gym clothes, but they're probably in someone's tree now," his mother said. "You either laugh, or you cry.  You get through it," said Sherry Bogue.

Bradford told his congregation Tuesday night they'll be sharing with the school.

"I'm very excited to know our church has come together and we are going to have children in our school instead of them being without a school, said Sally Brown.

"I think that's fabulous," said church member Nohemi Lugo. "That way we can show Christ's love to our community."