School Climate & Safety

Sandy’s Storm Damage Keeps Schools Closed in N.Y.C., N.J.

By Lesli A. Maxwell — October 31, 2012 3 min read
Seeking shelter from Hurricane Sandy, Crystal Medley, left, and her son, Christian Jackson, 11, play a video game Tuesday in a shelter at Washington High School in Princess Anne, Md.
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Two days after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the Eastern Seaboard, widespread power outages, flooding, and other aftereffects of the storm continued to keep thousands of schools shuttered and millions of students out of classrooms in what is shaping up to be one of the largest disruptions to schooling in the United States in recent years.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon that his city’s 1.1 million-student school system would be shut down through the week, although teachers, administrators, and other staff members were told to report to work Friday. With as many as 200 school buildings sustaining storm-related damage, the mayor said he hoped school would resume next week.

“We have lots of things to get ready for next week,” he said. “I know this is a great inconvenience for parents, ... but there are an awful lot of schools that have received damage or don’t have power. It’s just so many that we need the next four or five days to clean up and, hopefully, we can open up Monday.”

Across New York state on Wednesday, 198 districts were shut down, said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the state department of education.

Floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy engulf escalators in the South Ferry station of the No. 1 subway line in lower Manhattan on Wednesday. Floodwaters that poured into New York's subway tunnels pose one of the biggest obstacles to the city's recovery from the storm.

In New Jersey, more than half the nearly 600 school districts remained closed for the third straight day, said Christopher Cerf, the state education commissioner. He expected that more districts would be able to open Thursday, but that many, especially those near the state’s hard-hit coast, were likely to have to stay shut down through the week, with wide swaths of the state still in the dark.

Mr. Cerf said that the disruptions to schooling caused by the storm were on a scale that has not been seen before in New Jersey, and that soon school leaders would have to determine whether days would have to be added to the school year to make up for the lost time. The state requires a minimum of 180 instructional days, but many districts have as many as 185 days, Mr. Cerf said.

In the 40,000-student Newark district—the state’s largest—only one-quarter of the 75 school buildings had power on Wednesday, said Cami Anderson, the superintendent. Three buildings are being used as emergency shelters, and a fourth is being used as a central kitchen to prepare 1,000 meals a day for one of the city’s other emergency shelters, she said. Schools in the city were slated to be closed at least through Thursday.

“Our crews have only just started to really assess damage [Wednesday] because the conditions had not been safe enough before now,” Ms. Anderson said. “And until we get power on in our buildings, we can’t do a thorough assessment of every corner and whether our boilers are functional.”

The district’s Web server has also been down, a problem Ms. Anderson hoped would be resolved by Thursday morning.

Brian Hajeski reacts after looking at the debris from a home that washed up onto the Mantoloking Bridge the morning after Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey shore area.

“We want to be able to post reading lists for parents, so that students can stay busy and we can keep them engaged in something,” she said.

Paterson, N.J., the state’s third-largest district, with nearly 30,000 students, will remain closed through at least Thursday, spokeswoman Terry Corallo said in an email. Fourteen of the district’s 50 schools were still in the dark Wednesday, with a handful of others experiencing brownouts.

Ms. Corallo said that the district’s buildings are “fine structurally,” but that “significant amounts of food stored in school freezers” had been lost and would present a challenge for feeding students breakfasts and lunches.

Ms. Corallo said another challenge for Paterson is that many of the district’s employees live in other parts of New Jersey or in New York, and that commuting is still difficult because of downed trees and power lines.

A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2012 edition of Education Week as Hurricane Sandy Continues to Disrupt Schools in N.Y.C., N.J.

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