East Palestine Preparing Schools for Students to Return

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Plans were already in place by the East Palestine School District not only to be an emergency site immediately following the train derailment Friday, but also to get students back to school.

“You want to try to get routine and ritual in these kids’ lives,” Superintendent Chris Neifer said. Even before the evacuation orders were lifted, Neifer said he knew the Red Cross would stay an additional 24 hours, and the command center would probably stay a day or two afterward.

“Once they’re gone, we will bring a company in to deep clean the buildings,” Neifer said, adding that included bringing in HVAC contractors to check the system and change the filters in efforts to safely welcome students back to the buildings next week.

Additionally, social-emotional support counselors will be on hand. Some school staff members and administrators went to hotels to see the students and families staying there, and events were set up to give students something to do besides worrying.

With so much activity, Neifer said he took photos of the campus Monday because of how different it looked.

“We are a county emergency site, so we do have a plan in place if something like this were to happen,” Neifer said. “Fortunately, an emergency happened when there were no kids here.”

While the high school and middle school served as a Red Cross shelter for evacuees from late Friday until after the order was lifted, Neifer said it became apparent that all the county, state and national officials coming to help with the emergency needed a home base as well. A command center took over the whole east side of the elementary school. The parking lot outside the elementary was set up with equipment and vehicles. The football field served as a landing pad for helicopters.

“They took over the whole campus for sure, but that’s the plan. … To be a bystander on the outside here and to watch them work and all the things they have done for our community has been amazing,” Neifer said.

As those in the community have done when others have needed help in the past, people came to help or donate the things people needed for the shelter or to feed the first responders.

“The generosity of the surrounding area has just been phenomenal,” Neifer said, leaving them with enough to share with other groups and to keep on hand for when people need help in the next few weeks after the evacuation order ended.

Neifer said he does not see that level of caring ending in the East Palestine community.

“Such a resilient group. Such a caring group of people here in the community,” Neifer said. “We will absolutely rally, and we will make the best of this and we will move forward.

Pictured at top: The parking lot outside East Palestine Elementary School.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.