---- — LAFAYETTE (AP) — More than 900 students returned to classes Monday after an unexpected week off because of severe storms that badly damaged two schools near Lafayette.
Students from Southwestern Middle School were greeted with applause Monday as they arrived at Wea Ridge Middle School, where their classes will be held in spare classrooms for at least the next few months. Children who had been attending Mintonye Elementary School are going to a former school owned by a church.
Southwestern student Brett Hartman told WTHR-TV he was grateful for the welcome as his classmates resumed school for the first time since the Nov. 17 storms in which Indiana saw 28 tornadoes.
“I want to get back into the routine and get all of our work done,” he said. “Hopefully we don’t have to go back for summer school.”
District officials have requested a five-day exemption from the state’s 180-school day requirement because of the storm damage, which tore part of the roof from Southwestern Middle School and knocked down some of its exterior walls.
It is unclear how long the two neighboring schools in a rural area about five miles southwest of Lafayette will be shut down, but Tippecanoe School Corp. officials estimate the more severely damaged middle school building might be closed for at least a year.
An open house held Sunday for students and parents at the new locations was meant to ease any anxiety about the moves, district Superintendent Scott Hanback told the Journal & Courier.
“The teachers and staff have been working literally overtime just to get the classrooms set up and ready to go,” Hanback said. “Right now, we just want to thank our entire community just for stepping up in a time of need.”
Wea Ridge and Southwestern middle schools have been rival schools within the same district — but that seems to have been set aside since the storm that hit on a Sunday afternoon.
A large banner inside played off the nicknames of the schools, saying “Huskies and Wildcats: Proving Cats and Dawgs can live together.”
Parent Mindy Doll told WRTV she was glad the new classrooms for the elementary students resemble their old rooms, which she believes will help their transition.
“Although it’s been something big that’s happened, it hasn’t really affected the kids as much as you would think,” she said.