TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) —  Hillsborough County Public Schools canceled classes through Thursday in anticipation of Hurricane Ian. The district is converting dozens of those classrooms into shelters.

Pizzo K-8 is one of 49 schools converted into shelters. The shelters will remain open until Hurricane Ian passes away from the Tampa Bay area. There are shelters for special needs, pets and the general population.

Inside Ms. Liz Valdez’s classroom, desks are stacked and the floor space has been cleared.

Ms. Valdez left out snacks, games and goodies. She also created a sanitation station for families that will ride out Ian from inside her classroom.

“Right now, we’re going through turbulent times in our lives,” she said. “School is important and we are the heart of the community. It’s OK to say come home you’re safe here with us.”

The shelters opened on Monday at 2 p.m. Pizzo had a line hours prior to the shelter opening. Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Addison Davis said that’s how great the need is.

“I know it’s very difficult for our families to close schools,” said Davis. “As an educator, I want our students in front of our highly qualified, skilled teachers every day, but this is a must to make certain we are working collectively and collaboratively with all the resources within this community.”

Davis said there will be food meal services available and school buses will be transporting people to shelters. In the event shelters at schools lose power, the district has a partnership with TECO to bring schools online first.

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