Jacksboro students return to school Tuesday after EF-3 tornado

Students in Jacksboro will return to class on Tuesday a week after an EF-3 tornado hit the small city in Jack County.

The high school remains damaged but has been declared safe enough for students to come back. The elementary school is still too dangerous.

Kids will be split up among the middle school campus and churches that are becoming makeshift schools.

Khloee Wells has her backpack by the front door for school Tuesday morning. 

"Half of our books got destroyed in our library, and I just had mine," the 9-year-old said.

"I am nervous for her to go back to school," said her mother Britney Wills.

Britney is still processing the panic from last week’s tornado in Jacksboro. The EF-3 twister touched down on the elementary school, causing severe damage. It was the strongest tornado during last week’s outbreak across the state. 

"I was by a door, and I felt wind coming," she recalled.

Khloee and 500 other kids huddled in the hallway. No one was injured, but the elementary building was damaged. 

One week later, Jacksboro ISD is now welcoming back its students. But the first day back will look different.

Principal Michael Qualls and his teachers spent Monday turning the town’s First Baptist Church into a makeshift elementary school. 

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"School is not a building. School is what happens in it," she said.

Tuesday morning, pre-K through fifth-grade students will be scattered at First Baptist, Jacksboro Parish, Fort Richardson Masonic Lodge and Jacksboro Middle School. 

Teachers are sharing classrooms, and students will eat lunch in shifts.

"My number one priority is to get them back to what normalcy we can provide them," Qualls said.

Over at the high school, 300 students will also start school Tuesday. Jacksboro High was deemed safe for students while the gymnasium undergoes reconstruction.

"Why did God choose me to be in that situation at that time, I don’t know," Qualls said.

Surveillance video shows Qualls running down the hallway the moment the lights go out, barely making it to safety before the walls begin to collapse. He says his priority was his students and staff and parents piling inside from waiting in the pickup line. 

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"The courage they showed, and they were praying for each other. They were comforting each other," he said. "And I just want to know how proud I am of them as a principal."

Meanwhile for Khloee, she is excited to see her classmates for the first time in a week. 

"It’s just amazing how kids were praying and their parents and no one was even around," Britney said.

Structural engineers are still surveying the elementary school. Some grades could be back inside here as early as next week. But for the first through third graders, it could be several weeks.