Some students are having to travel to different boroughs for school as New York City recovers from Sandy. (Published Friday, Nov. 9, 2012)
A week and a half after Sandy swept waterfront homes into the sea and knocked out power for millions across the New York region, the nation's largest school system is struggling to get thousands of children back in the classroom.
Most of New York City's 1,750 public schools opened Monday and its 1.1 million students returned to school.
But 56 schools remained closed either because the buildings were damaged or because they still lacked electricity. Another 28 schools were operating without heat. Students from the still-closed schools were given relocation assignments, and told to report to new schools on Wednesday or Thursday. Just 30 percent showed up Thursday.
A local PTA official said that for children from neighborhoods most devastated by Sandy, the city Department of Education's plan to have students report to their old schools to be bused to distant neighborhoods makes little sense.
"It's almost impossible because most of us are not living there and have lost our cars," said Maud Smith, the co-president of the PTA at the Belle Harbor School in the Rockaways.
Students from Belle Harbor School, also called Public School 114, were told to report there at 7 a.m. to be bused to one of three schools in different Queens neighborhoods. Just 4 percent showed up.
"It's very nice that we have these schools that are willing to take us. But we're not living in the Rockaways," Smith said.
She said the storm damaged almost every house in Belle Harbor, forcing families to take refuge elsewhere. Smith herself has moved in with her sister in Rockville Centre on Long Island and has enrolled her three children there. She hopes to return to her house and her school but has no idea when either will be habitable.
"We would like to know what the process is of getting back to our homes and what was the damage to the school," she said.
Students from another school in Rockaway, Scholars' Academy, were told to report to two schools in the East New York section of Brooklyn, an area that some parents fear is unsafe.
"I'm nervous," Scholars' Academy parent Lisa Bongiovanni told a reporter on Wednesday. "I know there are a lot of halfway houses. It's a struggling area."
The city education department is providing school buses for some but not all students at relocated schools.
Veronica Ravenell, who lives in hard-hit Coney Island, said it took her an hour on two city buses to get her 9-year-old son Matthew to his newly assigned school, Intermediate School 281 in Bensonhurst, on Thursday. She wasn't sure she would bother on Friday.
"They really didn't do any work in school," Ravenell said. "They're not fully getting the education they need."
Elsewhere in the region, schools are reopening slowly as well.
The New Jersey Education Department said more than three-fourths of the state's schools would be able to open by Thursday but not all of them were. Some were closed because of the nor'easter that hit on Wednesday and some were already scheduled to be closed.
Some districts with badly damaged schools were making other arrangements. In Moonachie, a small town in northern New Jersey's Bergen County, classes were moved to nearby Wood-Ridge. In Lavallette on the shore, there were plans to hold classes in a nearby church starting next week.
New York City students at some shared schools were crammed into makeshift classrooms in gyms and cafeterias, and the Department of Education was struggling to devise new bus routes to ferry students to class.
"We have had some problems," Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm said. "Some buses were late. By and large, I think it worked pretty well."
Some students and teachers were making the best of a bad situation.
Marie Sirotniak, a reading teacher at the still-closed Public School 15 in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, stood outside of PS. 15's host school several blocks away on Thursday to welcome students.
"They miss their school, and the community still has no power and no heat, so they're coming from homes that have been dealing with this disaster, and then to have the one place that's consistent in their lives, which is P.S. 15, not be there — it's been jarring but they've been just bouncing back amazingly," she said.
Angelo Melendez dropped off his 7-year-old son Angelo Jr. and said the youngster was glad to be back at school.
"He said there's about three second-grade classes combined, learning together," Melendez said. "He said it was cool."
Millennium High School, which occupies three floors of a financial district office tower whose basement flooded in the storm, has been relocated to two schools elsewhere in downtown Manhattan. Parents' Association co-president Tara Silberberg said parent volunteers carrying red umbrellas met the students as they came out of the subway on Wednesday and guided them to their new schools. "They were so happy to see each other," she said.
But Silberberg said Millennium's 700 students don't know when they can return to their old school and can't even get access to their lockers where they left everything from school projects to college application letters.
"They're in a quarter of the space that they usually are," she said. "There is no timeline, and we don't know what to expect. It is extremely frustrating."
Associated Press reporter Geoff Mulvihill in New Jersey contributed to this report.
Published at 6:16 PM EST on Nov 8, 2012
Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York