Schools in Fort McMurray's hardest-hit wildfire zones will reopen this fall

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Schools in Fort McMurray's hardest-hit wildfire zones will reopen this fall

Schools in Fort McMurray's hardest-hit wildfire zones will reopen this fall

Schools inside Fort McMurray's hardest-hit wildfire zones will reopen for the 2017-2018 school year.

Father Beauregard, along with Beacon Hill Public School, Good Shepherd Catholic School and École Boréal have not opened since the May wildfire.

The wildfire devastated whole communities and forced the evacuation of more than 80,000 people. Although the municipality hasn't released a final number, it estimates a portion of Fort McMurray's population has not returned.

The public, Catholic and French school divisions all decided to close some of their schools last year because they couldn't be cleared of wildfire soot or, in some cases, repaired in time.

All five schools have since been cleaned and repaired.

Administrators say they were also worried about the mental and physical health of students going to schools in wildfire disaster zones.

The French school council, Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord, which manages Fort McMurray's École Boréal, confirmed the school is expected to re-open. A council spokesman said more details on timing will be released April 18.

The public and Catholic schools that were closed during the wildfire will reopen on the usual first day of school in September.

Low-enrolment concerns

The public and Catholic school districts said they consulted with parents in the hardest-hit wildfire areas, and the overwhelming response was to reopen despite the likelihood of low enrolment.

"The message came through loud and clear that parents wanted to return to their schools," public school superintendent Doug Nicholls said. "And we are delighted that's going to happen."

Nicholls said the board voted to place the wishes of students and parents ahead of concerns about the economic feasibility of opening low-enrolment schools.

The public and Catholic school boards both said they're confident enrolment numbers will increase year-by-year as more and more homes are rebuilt.

"If you open it that will help people make up their minds and we expect the enrolment in that school will continue to climb," Catholic school superintendent George McGuigan said.

McGuigan said school districts receive funding based on student enrolment, but there are also additional grants from the province that can help cushion any reduced funding.

Both the public and Catholic districts said they are prepared to merge different grades into single classes if necessary in September.

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