Rockaway Parents Prefer Homeschooling to Relocating Kids to Other Schools

By James Fanelli on November 6, 2012 7:23am 

BELLE HARBOR — Parents of students at hurricane-socked schools say they would rather teach their kids themselves — or even let them skip class — than relocate them to up-and-running schools too far from home.

Hurricane Sandy severely damaged 57 city schools, including many in tight-knit Rockaway communities, according to the Department of Education. Starting Wednesday, the city will relocate those students, but many parents left stranded without power, phones and transportation are uneasy about the plan.

"If something happens to my children, I won't know and won't have a way to get to them," said Belle Harbor resident Kristine Memoli, 37, who intends to home-school her kids.

Two of Memoli's children attend P.S. 114, which, she said, may not reopen until February, if not longer. Under the DOE plan, her son John, a kindergartener, would take a 40-minute bus ride to I.S. 77 in Ridgewood, Queens. Her son Peter, a fourth-grader, would go to I.S. 119 in Glendale, Queens. 

"These kids have been through enough," said Memoli, who lost a car in the storm and can rarely get a signal on her cell phone. "Now you're going to ship my kid to an unfamiliar surrounding without his friends and without his teacher?"

Memoli lives on Beach 123rd Street, less than a half-block from the ocean. Her family and her sister's family share a two-story attached brick townhouse.

Rushing water from the storm dislodged a large swath of the wooden boardwalk. It now lies in front of her home. Mounds of sand clog her street. 

Her sister, Michele Salimeni, 41, has three children at P.S. 114. She plans on home-schooling as well.

Both sisters feel the relocations isolate them from their children during the day. They said a better solution would be for the Education Department to have classes in trailers in the neighborhood.

"We love our school. We love our teachers. If [the kids] can't be there, they'll be home with us," Memoli said.

The Department of Education is uncertain how long the damaged schools will remain closed, but sources told DNAinfo that officials fear some may stay shuttered for the rest of the school year. Officials have also expressed concern that some students may drop out rather than make the longer commute to a different school, sources said.

Patricia Einsman, 35, of Rockaway Park, has a son in 10th grade who attends Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability. The school is inside a building that also houses Beach Channel High School, where the storm flooded the basement and destroyed four oil burners, according to a custodian.

The city plans on relocating Rockaway Park High School students to Maspeth High School, but Einsman said she won't let her son go.

"I don't even know where that is," she said. "I'll keep him home. If they fail him, then he'll go to summer school."

"Here, we know everybody," she added. "Out there, we don't."

Einsman's neighbor's daughter, Aaliyah Howard, is a ninth-grader at Rockaway Park. She's also passing on the relocation to Maspeth.

"It's too far away," Aaliyah said. "You don't know what crazy people are out there."

Many parents in the Rockaways also said they've been left in the dark about the DOE plan, which involves students catching a bus outside their shuttered school. Officials said they would text and call parents about the changes, but phone reception on the peninsula remains spotty.

For Regina McManus, 53, the relocation sounds like a logistical nightmare. The Rockaway Park resident has an eighth-grade daughter and seventh-grade son at the Chris Galas School in Broad Channel, Queens. Students there are being relocated to P.S. 181 in Rosedale, Queens.

To get the relocation bus at Chris Galas, McManus' children must first drive over the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge. But McManus lost all three of her cars in the storm, and public transportation from Broad Channel and Rockaway Park currently ends at 4:45 p.m., she said.

"I'm not putting them on the bus, if I can't guarantee they'll get back to me at night," McManus said.

Other parents have thought about enrolling in private schools.  

Ann Marie McDonald-Smith has four children, including a fourth-grader at P.S. 114, and two at shuttered Scholars Academy in Rockaway Park. She spent Monday calling parochial schools to see if they would accept her kids. She also considered home-schooling her fourth-grader.

McDonald-Smith said the city made a mistake by rushing to get students back to school rather than considering the difficulties some families face.

"Not to sound cynical, it seems like Mayor Bloomberg wants to say, 'Oh, look, we opened the schools,'" she said.

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