Sandy leaves students, parents scrambling

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BY ALEXA ALTMAN AND MAGGIE HAYES

Kids may have received an unscheduled week-long vacation from school after Sandy, but they returned to a system turned upside down.

Roughly 79 schools across Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island suffered structural damage, 13 lost power and nearly 70 boilers required repairs.

Students from 43 damaged schools citywide were relocated, some further from home than parents would have preferred.

P.S. 146 PTA President Terri Fonal was still without a temporary facility for her two children, third grader Kasey and sixth grader Matthew, a week-and-a-half after the storm hit and damaged their Howard Beach school. Late on the night of Wednesday, November 7, Fonal received a call from the Department of Education (DOE), alerting her that her children could attend classes at Spring Creek Educational Campus in Brooklyn the following day. Fonal said it was a lack of information that caused parents to panic.

“That’s why a lot of parents were so up in arms because [the DOE was] telling us one thing and doing something else,” said Fonal. “From the beginning we were told they were [trying] to fix the school but there was a possibility they may be relocated. There were a lot of parents who didn’t know what was happening.”

According to Fonal, only 90 kids attended class at their temporary school at Spring Creek Educational Campus on Thursday, a significantly steep decline from their typical student body of about 600. She decided against sending her kids to school, saying the storm caused too much confusion already.

Published reports show 200,000 students citywide were absent that same Thursday.

Of the 8,000-bus fleet serving the New York City school system, 700 were out of service in the week after the storm, affecting students’ commutes to school. Last week, the DOE began distributing MetroCards to displaced students and their parents to smooth their journey to their new location.

“We will continue to work hard to make sure schools are back online and get kids back to their home schools,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott at a meeting to brief faculty and parents about changes due to Sandy at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Long Island City.

Some schools acted as shelters for Sandy victims, including Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, which had over 100 refugees staying on campus full time as of last week. Some of these shelters had sanitary and hygiene problems. Brooklyn’s John Jay High School was plagued by a brief bout of stomach virus that was quickly eliminated. The school has since undergone a thorough cleansing and been signed off on by the Department of Health (DOHMH).

To help get damaged schools back to normal, the City Council approved a $200 million grant to city schools. P.S. 207 in Howard Beach — one of 23 school buildings housing 37 schools closed for repairs – requires new oil tanks and electrical wiring.

After missing two weeks of classes, P.S. 146 students were eager to return to their home school.

“The kids were very excited to go back,” said Fonal. “They missed their friends, they missed their teachers. They needed to go back to the routine.”

The DOE is undecided as to how students will make up days missed due to the storm.