Stuyvesant High School in New York City opened its doors last week for the first time since it was evacuated following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
As administrators and teachers welcomed the school’s 3,000 students back to the building in Lower Manhattan, they were also making room—temporarily—for two more officials. City Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy and one of his secretaries set up shop at the school for four days last week to help quell parents’ fears about the air quality in and around the high school, which is just a few blocks from where the devastated trade center once stood.
Dust and debris from the collapse of the office towers made its way into the school, coating desks, chairs, and supplies and requiring a massive cleanup effort. “Every article had to be cleaned thoroughly,” said Kevin Ortiz, a New York City schools spokesman.
Four separate air-quality tests were also performed between Sept. 21 and Oct. 8, he said. The school system worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New York City’s departments of health and environmental protection, and health consultants brought in by the United Federation of Teachers, the local union that represents the city’s public school teachers.
But despite the cleanup effort and air-quality testing, many parents remain concerned with how the nearby work to clear out debris from the World Trade Center site will affect students. A letter posted on the Web site for the Stuyvesant High School Parents Association warns that “the barge operations, and the related truck traffic and noise pollution, present a potential danger to the students and staff of our school and to the surrounding community.”
Those concerns extend to other schools in Lower Manhattan that were shut down after the attack and remain closed, such as the High School of Economics and Finance and the High School for Leadership and Public Service.
The district needs to ensure that the air is clean and that the buildings themselves are structurally safe before they can be reopened, Mr. Ortiz said. Students from the schools that remain closed have been attending classes at schools that were already overcrowded, said David Sherman, the vice president of the UFT. He added that teachers are using sheets to create makeshift classrooms in the corners of gymnasiums, and blocking off areas of school libraries to conduct lessons. (“N.Y.C. Schools Share Space; 8 Still Closed,” Sept. 26, 2001.)
It was not just public schools in Lower Manhattan that closed after the attacks. Five private or parochial schools located in the area were also closed, but have reopened, according to Frederick C. Calder, the executive director of the New York State Association of Independent Schools.
The flood of donations that has poured in since the September attack might help make life in the affected schools a little easier, UFT officials said. The union has spearheaded the effort to sort through and distribute the donations that include everything from jelly beans to backpacks to money.
In Washington, workers at the American Federation of Teachers, the UFT’s parent union, have held bake sales and ice cream socials to help raise $18,000 to add to the two different funds the union has established to help the displaced schools and the families of victims of the attack.
Others have sent donations for the schools.
For example, Scholastic Inc., a New York City-based publisher of educational magazines and children’s books, sent 3,000 pounds of books to the schools, and ABC Carpets, a local store, donated carpet squares for the children sitting on the floors in their makeshift classrooms, Mr. Sherman said.
And boxes of donations of school supplies decorated with crayoned pictures from classrooms across the country keep pouring in.
“People have been extraordinarily generous,” Mr. Sherman said.