It was chaotic and cold at many schools in the region hit hard by Superstorm Sandy as classes resumed for many on Monday, while thousands stayed home from schools that were too damaged to reopen. But staff and students at one school severely damaged in the storm will celebrate a happy ending on Wednesday after a traumatic week.
The nearly 200 students who attend Liberation Diploma Plus, an alternative school for students at risk of dropping out, will be able to return to their own building in Coney Island this week.
The Hechinger Report described the destruction at the school in an article Monday; flood waters wiped out the first floor and ruined furniture, books, supplies and student files, so the New York City Department of Education had planned to reassign the students to another building temporarily. The decision worried the school’s principal, April Leong, who said the disruption would be a major setback for her students—already some of the most vulnerable in the city—and that some would fall through the cracks.
But after a herculean effort by staff and volunteers over the past few days to clean up after the storm, the New York City Department of Education announced that the school can reopen.
“The dedicated staff … pumped out the flooded basement and repaired boilers, and the hardworking custodians cleaned the school to get it ready for students tomorrow,” said department spokeswoman Erin Hughes in an email to The Hechinger Report. “Really an amazing story.”
Leong was ecstatic. “Students came in today and were so happy when they heard the news,” she said in an email. Classes will be held on an upper floor of the building that wasn’t damaged by the storm.
In another surprise recovery, John Dewey High School, which was described as one of the most damaged schools in New York City after it caught fire during the storm, will also reopen on Wednesday. The fire “burned through the building’s electrical system,” according to Gothamschools.org, but the website reported that a generator installed at the school means the building will be operational.
Many schools have not fared as well, however. In New Jersey, the state hardest hit by the storm, more than half of schools across the state were still closed as of Monday. “In my 40 years in education in New Jersey, I have never seen anything like this,” Lawrence Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, told NJSpotlight.com. “Nothing like this, it’s by far the worst.”
In New York City, 48 schools were too damaged to reopen on Monday (down from 57 on Sunday), and 19 had no power, Gothamschools.org reported. It total, 75,000 students missed school for the sixth school day in a row on Monday. At some reopened schools, parents were told to bundle their children in sweaters because the heat wasn’t working yet. At others, classrooms were half empty. “We can’t learn in these conditions,” Manny Rivera, a high-school sophomore who attends the Seward Park Educational Campus in Lower Manhattan, told The New York Times. “Conditions are really uncomfortable.”