Joplin Schools to Reopen with In-School Tornado Shelters

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JOPLIN - A snow day Monday sort of dulled the excitement for 1300 kids who were set to begin classes in three brand new schools.

Yesterday, on KOMU 8 Jim Riek's trip back from the Cotton Bowl, he had the chance to sit down with Joplin Superintendent CJ Huff, who was helping out with construction, and to talk about new policies: not sending kids into a hallway during a tornado, and the need for tornado shelters.

"What I've seen and learned with our disaster first-hand, I would highly recommend a district considering new construction to at least price out what it will cost to build safe rooms as a part of the construction process," Huff said.

Construction is ongoing in Joplin, and what appears to be a classroom is actually a tornado shelter - as is the new gym.

It has 12-inch walls from top to bottom," Huff said. "We could be having music class in here with an EF5 above us and it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

Many of the kids who will fill the hallways of the school lived through the tornado.

"We had about 3000 students who lived in the path of the storm. We lost seven students and a staff member, and lots more injuries than I can count," Huff said.

He said that while the physical scars of the tornado are gradually being covered up, the emotional and mental damage remains.

"The mental health is still a challenge. I believe we were still providing services for about 900 students."

"You always think 'It will never happen here'. We were one of those communities too; when I woke up that day, I wasn't thinking an EF5 was rolling through Joplin," Huff said.

And if you don't think an EF5 can drop from the skies in mid-Missouri, there's a new slogan here: anything's possible in Joplin, Huff says.

"We're really excited where we are. It's been quite a ride, and we feel we're back on our feet again and getting refocused. I'm really proud of what everyone has done, and can't say thank you enough for all the support we've received from across the Midwest and our Missouri friends who made sure we got back up on our feet again."