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New York City Anticipates Turmoil as Most Students Resume Classes

As the city struggles to get back on its feet, some children are facing uncertain conditions in local schools.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Jim Henderson via Wikimedia Commons

 

As more than 90 percent of [New York] city schoolchildren head to school today for their first day back after Hurricane Sandy, some with extra sweaters to ward off cold, Department of Education officials will have their sights set on the 102 schools that still cannot reopen.

The number of school buildings unable to accommodate students fluctuated over the weekend, but by Sunday night, department officials determined that 57 schools were so damaged that they must be relocated and 29 schools still lacked power, down from nearly 200 at the beginning of the weekend. Another 16 schools are housed in eight buildings that have for the last week been used as shelters for New Yorkers displaced from homes and hospitals by the storm.

The roughly 73,000 students who attend the schools are expected to return to classes on Wednesday, after the entire city takes another break for Election Day on Tuesday, when many schools will function as polling centers.

In the next two days, officials aim for power to be restored to schools that lack it, shelters  closed and cleaned, and damaged schools shoehorned into other locations. But Mayor Bloomberg said the transition back to school — coming after students and teachers alike have had their homes and neighborhoods disruption — would likely be rocky.

“We just can’t predict who’s going to show up where … and we’re obviously going to have problems,” Bloomberg said during a news conference on Sunday. “We’ll just have to bear it, but we’ll have a day between the first day and the second day of school – namely Tuesday – and we’re going to use that day to straighten things out to the best of our ability.”

The sudden relocation of 57 schools whose buildings suffered flooding, oil spills, and fires as a result of the storm has posed the most daunting logistical challenge. Some schools are moving miles away from their original locations, and others are being divided over two or three different sites, according to the department’s plans, which changed over the weekend with conditions on the ground.

“We don’t have a very large group of empty seats, but we think … by moving things around in these schools we’re able to accommodate everyone,” Bloomberg said on Sunday.

In one extreme example, John Dewey High School, which suffered an electrical fire Tuesday morning, is sending its ninth- and 10th-graders to Sheepshead Bay High School, 11th-graders to James Madison High School, and 12th-graders to the Lafayette High School campus. While Lafayette is very close to Dewey, the other two schools are about three miles away — and more than a mile away from each other — in an arrangement that some teachers said would make it impossible to continue with students’ existing class schedules.

Other schools are moving part and parcel to another building, some as far as eight miles away. But their plans are no less complex. Principals in buildings that are getting surprise co-locations are meeting tomorrow with their new neighbors to devise space-sharing schedules and strategies, while teachers in the relocated schools will use the day to set up their new classrooms.

Letting families know that their children would have one more day off was a steep challenge for the department. More than 1 million “robocalls” had gone out to families by Sunday, officials said, and the city placed full-page ads in multiple major newspapers today announcing the changes.

But Bloomberg said on Sunday that he expected some families to make their way to school this morning, only to find it dark and shuttered.