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All City Schools Reopen for Class, as Some Kids Share Space with Shelters

By Julie Shapiro | November 7, 2012 10:13pm | Updated on November 8, 2012 9:19am

NEW YORK — All city students are due to go back to school on Thursday — including thousands who haven’t set foot inside a classroom since Hurricane Sandy hit.

Several high schools that have been serving as evacuation shelters will reopen Thursday, and 13 schools that still have no electricity will move to new locations.

Most schools already reopened earlier this week, but some have struggled with low attendance since then, especially those that were damaged in the storm and had to shift students to a different building.

Just 43 percent of students in relocated schools turned up at their new locations on Wednesday, compared to the city’s overall attendance rate of nearly 88 percent, officials said.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he is counting on word of mouth and continued Department of Education outreach to boost the attendance numbers. Walcott predicted attendance would rise as families adjust to the new school locations, which in some cases require students to travel to another borough.

“This is something that’s really brand new,” Walcott said in a conference call with reporters. “It’s going to be challenging.”

One of the problems Wednesday was that many families didn’t know whether they would get buses to their children's new schools, and some buses were late or did not turn up at all, parents and officials said.

The city is working on getting more buses to shuttle relocated students, especially in areas where public transportation has not been restored, officials said.

Another challenge is the five high school buildings that are reopening to students while still housing hundreds of homeless New Yorkers and evacuees from areas hard-hit by the hurricane.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Brooklyn Tech had 222 people in its shelter. Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School had 194 people. Hillcrest High School had 124 people. Susan Wagner High School had 124 people, and George Washington High School had 53 people, Walcott said.

“The numbers will ebb and flow, especially in these weather conditions,” said Walcott, who predicted an influx of shelter residents Wednesday evening as the nor’easter blew into the city.

Walcott said he is working closely with the Department of Health and the Department of Homeless Services to keep the evacuees separate from the students and to allow both populations to use the buildings.

Another issue is that 28 schools in the city still do not have heat, which means about 15,000 students have been layering up in sweaters and coats to stay warm in their classrooms.

Walcott said he has no plans to close the unheated schools, and it’s up to parents to decide whether their kids can handle the frigid learning environment.

“They should be aware of it, and then they should make a determination,” he said.

Looking ahead, Walcott said he is working on finding ways to make up the school days kids lost during Hurricane Sandy.

“I want us to have the maximum days possible for our students to learn,” Walcott said.