After Tornado, Some Dallas Students Move to New Schools

Walnut Hill Elementary School was one of several Dallas ISD campuses that sustained damage in Sunday night's tornado.
Lucas Mansfield
Walnut Hill Elementary School was one of several Dallas ISD campuses that sustained damage in Sunday night's tornado.
Most, if not all, of the students at Dallas ISD schools that were shut down after Sunday's tornadoes can expect to be back in school this week.

But exactly where they'll be in school is another matter.

School officials canceled classes Monday at 20 campuses where the storm had knocked out power or left damage. At half of those schools, classes are expected to resume as soon as power is restored. At other schools, the district will be asking students to report to other locations for class, either for a few days while their schools are fixed, or for a year or more.

The National Weather Service confirmed an EF-3 tornado with winds up to 140 mph ripped through Dallas on Sunday night. No one was killed or seriously injured, but the tornado left heavy damage in Preston Hollow and areas near Love Field, where it destroyed a number of homes and businesses, uprooted trees and toppled power lines.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Walnut Hill Elementary School and Cary Middle School are damaged beyond the point of repair. The district's insurance adjuster has told officials that Walnut Hill is a total loss, and he expects Cary will be, as well.

Thomas Jefferson High School appears to have less damage than the other two, Hinojosa said, but district officials haven't been able to access the building to look at the damage. No matter whether the building is a total loss, the district won't be able to move back into it before August, Hinojosa said.

District officials are working out a plan to send students at those three schools to other campuses beginning Wednesday. Students from Walnut Hill will be sent to the building that, until recently, housed Tom Field Elementary School. District officials closed the school last year.

The 500 students from Cary will be divided among two schools, with 200 going to Medrano Middle School and 300 being sent to Franklin Middle School, Hinojosa said. Dividing the teachers from Cary between the two schools will be a challenge, Hinojosa said, because the district will need to make sure students' courses and schedules are the same as they were before the storm.

"Obviously this was much more than a rainy day, and it kind of shook us to our core." — Michael Hinojosa

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The 1,800 students from Thomas Jefferson will be sent to Thomas Edison Middle Learning Center in West Dallas, Hinojosa said. The district closed the middle school last year after it failed to meet state standards for five consecutive years. District officials have been using the building for staff training since then.

Students from other schools will be asked to report to alternate campuses for a few days while the district makes minor repairs. At Cigarroa and Burnet elementary schools, the storm caused minor damage and left downed power lines in the area. Students from those schools will go to Loos Field House in Addison beginning Wednesday, where the district will have classes and food services set up, Hinojosa said. He expects to have those students back into their school buildings by Monday.

Hinojosa said district officials haven't been able to access Pershing Elementary School because of damage in the neighborhood around it. He hoped the district would be able to reopen the school Wednesday, but if they find damage, those students may need to report to an alternate site, as well, he said.

The district will provide transportation for students who are moving to new schools, Hinojosa said. For some, that may involve meeting each day at a central location and taking buses to the new schools. Although he was optimistic about the district's chances of starting classes this week, Hinojosa acknowledged that the solution isn't ideal.

"This is going to be very inconvenient for these families," he said.

Conversations about how to repair and replace the damaged schools have already begun, Hinojosa said. Plans for a new building to replace the existing Walnut Hill Elementary was already part of the district's conversations around an upcoming bond proposal, he said.

Many of the expenses from the storm will be covered by insurance, Hinojosa said. Others won't, so the district may need to tap into its $600 million rainy day fund, he said.

"Obviously this was much more than a rainy day, and it kind of shook us to our core," he said.

The move isn't the first time district officials have had to move an entire school midyear. In January 2018, the district moved South Oak Cliff High School and its 1,100 students from the school's nearly 70-year-old building to Village Fair, a renovated shopping center, while the school building underwent construction and repair projects.

Although the district is using a similar protocol for moving the tornado-damaged schools as it employed for South Oak Cliff, there are new complications, Hinojosa said. Teachers from the shuttered schools may not have access to their classrooms for some time, he said, so they can't retrieve any materials they left there.