BACK TO SCHOOL
When will local school systems return after this week's storms?
• Dade County - Undetermined
• Walker County - Undetermined
• Chattooga County - Back since Thursday
• Catoosa County - May 9
• Murray County - Back since Thursday
• Hamilton County - Undetermined
• DeKalb County, Ala. - Undetermined
• Bledsoe County - Tentatively Monday
• Marion County - Back since Thursday
• Sequatchie County - Back on Monday
• Chickamauga City - Back since Friday
• Bradley County - Back May 6
Source: Individual school systems
When Dexter Wooten's house in Trenton, Ga., got hit by a tornado, the 18-year-old's room took the biggest hit.
His bedroom closet was completely gone, taking with it the tuxedo he planned to wear to his senior prom, scheduled for today.
"I knew I wasn't going to be able to wear the suit," he said Friday in a telephone interview as his family rummaged through the remains of their belongings in one of the hardest-hit areas of Trenton.
Trying to salvage his son's big day, Wooten's father called Men's Wearhouse and company personnel agreed to order him another double-breasted suit with an orange vest. Nor did they charge for the one that was blown away by the wind.
But Wooten knows May 14, the new date for Dade County High School's prom, is not going to be the same.
"I really just see me looking back years from now and thinking, 'We don't look as happy as we would have,' because when we are there, we are going to smile for our pictures [but] we'll still have that little sadness in our eyes because we know what's going on," he said.
Dade County Schools Superintendent Patty Priest said Friday they had hoped to get back into school this week, but as of Friday schools remain closed until further notice.
"We need for most of the power to be on so kids can get ready for schools," she said.
While schools in Trenton; Ringgold, Ga.; and Cleveland, Tenn., took the worst shelling from Wednesday's storms, almost all systems were affected in some way, whether it was damage to buildings or closures due to power outages.
And, coming out of a winter whose snowstorms forced their share of out-of-school days, some systems are backed up against the wall when it comes to meeting the mandatory number of classroom days mandated by states.
Most systems in the region are out of snow days and probably will apply for a waiver to the states' education boards so they don't have to tack on extra days at the end of the school year, school officials said.
Out in the region
In DeKalb County, Ala., all schools will be closed until power is restored, officials said. The county was one of the hardest hit in the nation, with at least 32 dead. Plainview High School received some damage, according to Dewitt Jackson, a county commissioner who works for the board of education.
Other region schools, including Walker and Hamilton counties, were closed Friday but officials hoped to decide over the weekend if they were ready to go back Monday, school officials said.
Cleveland City and Sequatchie County schools return to their routine schedule Monday, school officials said.
But school systems such as Catoosa County Schools in Georgia and Bradley County Schools in Tennessee aren't so fortunate.
Ringgold High School and Ringgold Middle School in Catoosa virtually were ruined, and students won't return to those campuses for the remainder of the school year. Students will keep their teachers and classes, but starting May 9 Ringgold's 1,800 students will go to class at Heritage High and Middle schools and continue for the rest of the school year, Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese said. Heritage students will attend classes in the morning, and a second shift of students and teachers from Ringgold will come in the afternoon, she said.
Coaches will meet Monday to decide how to schedule practices and games for spring sports, because most of Ringgold's athletic facilities were heavily damaged, Reese said.
In Bradley County, schools will be closed next week as officials figure out how to deal with storm-damaged buildings.
On Friday, County Building Inspector Tina Bishop and County Emergency Management Agency official Jeff Gunter went to Blue Springs and Michigan Avenue elementary schools - the two schools with the most damage - to assess the situation.
An Iraq war veteran, Gunter said, "there were places we blew up with a 500-pound bomb [in Iraq] that looked better than some of the places here."
Kindergarten registration scheduled for next week also has been postponed.
"Blue Springs Elementary School was possibly destroyed by the storm," schools Director Johnny McDaniel said. Michigan Avenue's gym is unusable until repairs are made, he said, while Waterville, Oak Grove, Park View elementary schools and Lake Forest Middle School have no electricity.
Officials with other area school systems consider themselves blessed.
"You can replace a car or a house, but you can't replace a person," said Sequatchie County Schools Superintendent Johnny Cordell. Sequatchie schools were spared, he said, but the community took a beating.
In Marion County, students went back to school Thursday, the day after the storms hit, Superintendent Mark Griffith said.
And in Chickamauga, Ga., students returned to school Friday.
Staff writers Andy John, Randall Higgins and Mariann Martin contributed to this story.