Florida’s 12 law schools remained closed Monday as the remnants of Hurricane Irma churned northward out of the Sunshine State.
It was unlikely that any of those schools would reopen before Wednesday, and several have already announced class cancellations for the remainder of the week.
Some schools began closing as early as last Wednesday in preparation for the storm, meaning students will have missed at least a week of classes once they resume. The schools will likely add classes in some format to meet the American Bar Association’s course time requirements.
It was unclear Monday morning whether any of the state’s law schools sustained major damage, and officials had only just begun to assess their campuses. The Miami campus that houses the Florida International University College of Law saw only “limited damage,” according to a Sunday message from university president Mark Rosenberg. “Compared to nearby communities and neighborhoods throughout the state, we are relieved and in many ways enabled to help as much as possible,” Rosenberg said.
Both Coral Gables and Miami Gardens, inland areas where the University of Miami School of Law and the St. Thomas University School of Law are located, respectively, reportedly saw only minor damage such as down trees and street lights. The entire University of Miami campus was evacuated last week in anticipation of a direct hit from Irma, which later veered toward Florida’s west coast.
Three law schools on that coast were in or near Irma’s direct path. The first to encounter Irma head-on was Ave Maria School of Law in Naples. President and Dean Kevin Cieply rode out the storm on campus with students and other members of the law school community, according to the school’s Facebook page.
Attempts to reach Cieply Monday were unsuccessful and the school’s phones appeared to be down, but the law school updated its Facebook account with a message that everyone was safe and that the school would stay closed for the rest of the week.
“We’ll begin to work to rebuild our campus and recover from the damage,” the Facebook post reads. “The most important update is that lives are safe.”
Photos of the hurricane’s aftermath on campus showed downed palm trees and streets filled with water, though no buildings appeared to be flooded. Cieply posed for one photo barefoot amid tree debris with several others who remained on campus. The school is located about four miles inland.
Stetson University College of Law, located in Gulfport, just outside of St. Petersburg, and Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus were also in Irma’s path. The status of those campuses was not clear Monday morning. Cooley’s website said classes would be canceled through Tuesday, while Stetson said it would resume no earlier than Thursday.
Even without any major damage, many students, faculty and staff evacuated out of the state, and it will take time for them to return home. Many coastal areas were without power and phone service on Monday due to the storm.
Barry Currier, the managing director of accreditation and legal education at the American Bar Association, said he had heard from some law schools as of Monday morning, but not all. The ABA, the Association of American Law Schools and the Law School Admission Council Inc. have all reached out to schools impacted by Irma and Hurricane Harvey to offer assistance, he said.
“We have made ourselves available to answer questions and to coordinate any assistance that schools might want or need from the law school community generally,” Currier said. “The outpouring of support from schools across the country to the impacted law schools has been a positive and affirming thing.”