Published November 03, 2012
NEW YORK – Life is far from normal for 13-year-old Eliran Cohen a week after Superstorm Sandy flooded his family's Staten Island condo.
The teen, his mother and his older brother were ready to use a door as a flotation device when the storm hit last Monday, filling their ground floor with water.
Even as he helps clean up from the destruction, Eliran craves his old routine.
"I'd like to get back to school to see how all my friends are doing," he said.
Across the New York City, parents and students cooped up for a week say they too are ready to heed the mayor's call to return to school Monday, though some wondered whether it was possible in devastated areas. They wondered too how it would all work for the nation's largest school system serving about 1.1 million students, considering the scope and complexity of problems caused by the storm.
The challenges are enormous: Many residents in Lower Manhattan, Staten Island and other neighborhoods still were without power Saturday. Others lost their homes altogether and were still cleaning up debris. Some city schools were being used as shelters. And with gasoline scarce and public transportation crippled, many teachers and students will have a hard time getting to school.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said all of the city's 1,700 public schools will open on Monday except for 57 that have flooding or structural damage. Students from the 57 schools will be relocated but not until Wednesday, Walcott said. He said officials need the two extra days to figure out bus routes.
"It's a very complex process," he said. "This is a major turnaround in a very short time."
Because Tuesday is Election Day and therefore a holiday for public school students, kids being relocated will miss only one extra school day.
Finding space for the displaced students will be a challenge, but Patricia Lockhart, a science teacher at an undamaged Staten Island school, said school staff will make them as comfortable as possible.
"We're going to welcome them with open arms," she said.
Eight of the city's high schools that reopen will also serve as temporary homeless shelters. Teachers who reported to work Friday at one of those schools — Manhattan's High School for Graphic Communication Arts — complained that homeless men were terrorizing residents displaced by the storm.
Walcott said students and shelter residents will be in separate parts of school buildings and shouldn't come in contact with each other. He promised that conditions at the shared schools will be safe and sanitary.
Many students in New Jersey also will return to school on Monday, however decisions on districts in the hardest-hit areas of the state won't be made until Sunday. Stephanie and Greg Patruno of Wall, N.J., said their daughters, ages 5 and 9, were handling their extended power outage well, but they were concerned that schools would stay closed for too long.
In Brooklyn's frayed Red Hook neighborhood, workers have been pumping water out of New York's Public School 15 since Sandy rolled in last Monday.
The Department of Education decided late Friday to bus P.S. 15 students to a neighboring school, but parents interviewed at a public housing complex near P.S. 15 had no idea that their children would be sent to another location and would not be back in the classroom until Wednesday.
"They haven't told us what is happening," said Marilyn Mieles, the mother of a second-grader at P.S. 15 who also attended the school.
Julie Cavanagh, a teacher at P.S. 15, said school staffers were working to inform parents about the temporary location. Walcott said Department of Education officials would get the word out about all the relocations but he conceded that it will be challenging since some families lack electricity and Internet service.
Several schools on Staten Island also were still without power Saturday, but Sam Pirozzolo, president of Staten Island's Community Education Council, a local school board, said only two or three of the borough's schools will be unusable on Monday.
Pirozzolo said opening schools Monday is the right move, despite any confusion.
"Children have missed a week of school," he said. "What most people are looking for is going back to their normal, everyday routine."
In soggy Coney Island, Evangeline Pugh said her apartment on the second floor of a public housing high-rise lost power after a fuse blew when she tried to plug in a heater. The mother of four said she had to send the youngest two — the only ones left in school — to her eldest son in East New York because they have asthma. But Pugh said she would like to see them go back to school.
"It will be better than them sitting around the apartment and being cold," she said.
In Manhattan, Sandy knocked out power at P.S. 33 in the Chelsea area. The night before the storm, custodian Edzert Pierre made his way to the school, knowing he would be needed to watch over the building and that he would likely be stuck back home in Far Rockaway if he had waited a day.
He slept in the PTA room, on two bean bag chairs propped on a table, until power came on late Friday.
"I can't leave the premises until the power is on because I've got to make sure all the electric is turned back on, nothing blows out," Pierre said. "Because if I switch it back on and something blows out that's even worse, then there's not going to be school Monday."
New York City Teachers were told to report to work Friday, one school day ahead of students. Teacher Emily Koch showed up at Upper West Side school to prepare.
Some of her students travel by bus and subway to get to school.
"We're going to be really reasonable. If they can't get in Monday, they can't get in Monday," she said. "As a teacher, we understand."
Associated Press writers Michael Rubinkam, Beth J. Harpaz and Amanda Barrett in New York and Ben Nuckols in Wall, N.J., contributed to this report.