In New York City, 57 schools serving 34,000 of the city’s approximately 1 million students are located in buildings so damaged that students will have to be reassigned elsewhere, at least temporarily, according to a Department of Education spokesperson on Sunday.
In a first-floor office at Liberation Diploma Plus, a high school just three blocks from Coney Island’s famous beach, a pile of SAT study books bulge with filthy water. Desks are flung on their sides. The contents of the school supply closet—pencils, tape, paper, and folders—lie ruined on the floor.
A lot of public school students are bundling up today, since many school buildings have no heat. Among them: the Henry Street School for International Studies, Shuang Wen, University Neighborhood Middle School, P.S. 137, P.S. 134, Manhattan Charter School (II) and all of the schools in the Seward Park high school building.
Opening up the schools has been challenging because the lack of heat in some of the buildings, the damage in others and the fact that the High School and Wallace are currently in use respectively as the distribution center and a shelter.
Of all the public schools, the Connors School suffered the biggest damage, Toback said. Three classrooms were "destroyed," as well as hte cafeteria and offices on the first floor.
Today marked the first day back to school for most city students, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed their attendance rate. But the figure he cited — 85 percent — didn’t count the 75,000 students who weren’t in attendance because their schools were temporarily closed, or hundreds of schools that did not report their attendance in time for his press conference.
city workers are also racing to prepare the eight school buildings that are operating as shelters to reopen to students on Wednesday—a feat that will likely involve a massive cleaning effort and a plan for consolidating the remaining shelter residents to one or two school buildings.
In Lower Manhattan, students shivered in school buildings that had lights, but no heat; on Staten Island, they sat by classmates whose homes had been destroyed; and in every borough, some students stayed home as the city used their classrooms, hallways and gymnasiums as shelters.
“For every two that come in, three leave,” said Jeff Pedersen, the facility manager of the shelter at Susan E. Wagner High School on Staten Island, describing the situation on Monday.
Confusion reigned at some schools over the weekend as Department of Education robocalls telling students to stay home crossed paths with messages from principals telling students to show up. Some staff members arrived at schools in Queens and Brooklyn that had been marked as structurally damaged; they were rebuffed by hazmat crews.
“We can’t learn in these conditions,” said Manny Rivera, a sophomore. “Conditions are really uncomfortable.”
School and shelter officials at Brooklyn Tech High School are planning to shepherd the building’s more than 250 evacuees, many of whom are psychiatric patients, onto the top two floors of the school, including the cafeteria area, so that classes can resume on the bottom six floors.
“It smells of garbage and human waste, and people have been sleeping in our classrooms,” Ms. Johnson said. “We understand these people need a place to go, but we’re also worried about students — when they come back, they need it to be safe and clean. People are doing the best they can, but it’s just overwhelming.”
On Monday morning, Melessa Avery, the principal of Public School 273 in East New York, Brooklyn, sat at a conference table with Oswaldo Roman, the principal of a special needs school, who would be sending 156 students to P.S. 273 on Wednesday.