Students at 65 “severely damaged” public schools will be temporarily reassigned to new schools, and will resume classes on Wednesday, Dennis M. Walcott, the schools chancellor, announced late Friday afternoon.
The rest of the city’s schoolchildren will return to class Monday, but the logistical challenges of relocating students from those hardest-hit schools require an extra two days, Mr. Walcott said. On Tuesday, all city public schools are closed for Election Day.
High on the list of those challenges is transportation. “Especially in severely hit areas, schools may not be next door,” the chancellor warned. Younger children will be delivered to the new locations by bus; high school students will get a MetroCard. Mr. Walcott did not rule out the possibility that some students will have shortened school days, to fit as many as possible under the same roof.
Notifying those students of the changes will also be a challenge. Many live in areas that do not yet have electricity. Mr. Walcott said the schools would be using every resource to reach the affected families, working through parent coordinators and parent associations; broadcasting the news in print, online and over the airwaves; using robocalls and text messages; and keeping 311 call takers informed.
“We understand and feel for those individuals that may not have power, may not be in their homes, but that doesn’t mean they’re totally isolated,” he said, though he allowed that “there’s going to be some folks who may not get” the information in time.
Compounding the difficulties, some students in affected areas are now homeless and may be scattered around the city; some have lost loved ones; many have experienced trauma. The Education Department is working with other city agencies such as the Department of Homeless Services as well as with grief counselors to attend to those students’ needs.
In addition to the currently inoperable schools, an even greater number were left intact but without power. Mr. Walcott said that “Con Edison has provided a dedicated individual to work solely on powering up our schools.” He expected that “a sizable number” of those schools would be up and running by Monday, especially the large number that are located in Lower Manhattan, an area that by Friday afternoon was already coming back on line.
Mr. Walcott also answered questions about the handful of schools that are currently serving as shelters for people left homeless by the storm. They will be there while school is in session, but will not occupy the same areas as students.
“We want to make sure there’s isolation between those who are in a building for shelter purposes,” he said, and those who are there to study. Responding to concerns about possible security risks and unsanitary conditions, he said all would be addressed by Monday morning: “If it’s not sanitary then it will be sanitary, and the conditions have to be met.”
Teachers citywide showed up for work Friday to make preparations for their students’ return. “I’m pleased to report that based on a survey of 1,300 schools today we had 80 percent attendance,” Mr. Walcott said, noting that many of those teachers overcame their own flood-related challenges to show up. Teachers and staff of the severely damaged schools will report to work Monday, at their new locations, in advance of their transplanted students.
The list of those 65 schools, which the department intended to release Friday night, includes some with basements or even first stories underwater, boilers that are submerged or no longer functioning, and electrical systems that were destroyed by fire. An earlier estimate tallied 79 schools, but in the interim some have been brought up to code.
— ARIEL KAMINER
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