NEW YORK CITY — Dozens of schools devastated by Hurricane Sandy last week reopened at temporary locations around the city Wednesday morning — squeezing tens of thousands of displaced students into makeshift classrooms in school gyms, libraries and cafeterias.
Arriving by car, school bus and newly-restored subway trains from storm-battered neighborhoods on Coney Island, Staten Island, the Rockaways and in lower Manhattan, more than 20,000 students from 43 schools joined roughly 1 million others who returned to their school buildings Monday morning.
“Is this where we’re supposed to go?” asked Tsiang Belgrowve, a 16-year-old junior at the New York Harbor School on Governors Island, as she walked toward the doors of Stuyvesant High School in TriBeCa. “I’m a little nervous. I don’t know what we’re going to be doing. I hope they have something for us to do."
Many details about the relocations, such as which schools would provide shuttle buses to their new locations, were not announced until Tuesday, and even then only posted to the Department of Education website as a dense Excel spreadsheet.
Students, parents and educators — some still without power, Internet access or low on fuel — were left scrambling to arrange transportation and classroom space.
“The children suffer because of this,” parent David Stewart, 39, said as he dropped his 6-year-old daughter at her school's temporary location at P.S. 181 in Rosedale. “They need to find a better way to do this.”
About a dozen students and parents became stranded outside P.S 288 on Coney Island Wednesday morning, waiting in vain for a shuttle bus to the temporary location at the David A. Boody School in Gravesend. A handwritten oak-tag sign hung from a fence nearby, informing students and parents of the school’s new location, but it made no mention that a shuttle bus had not been scheduled — information only available on the DOE spreadsheet.
“Parents are discouraged,” said one school staff member, who watched students and parents wait as long as 45 minutes for the shuttle before they left. “Parents are upset. This is bad news.”
P.S. 288 parent Latresse Smalls, 33, whose 2001 Dodge Caravan was damaged in Hurricane Sandy, kept her children home rather than send them by public transit to the school.
“Maybe if my car was working, I could drive them to school every day,” said Smalls, whose children are 8, 9 and 10 years old. “I didn’t send them cause I’m not going to send my babies far. My 8-year-old would get lost.”
DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said the department is "trying to get more and more buses online. We lost about 300 buses due to the hurricane, plus we have a lot more students that are displaced."
Parents who drive their children to school or use taxis can file for reimbursement, Feinberg added, and schools are also providing free MetroCards to displaced students. Parents of children ages 5 to 8 can also obtain MetroCards to ride with their kids to school.
"We're trying to make it work as best we can," Feinberg said.
Across the city, educators braced for the influx of students. Teachers hung shower curtains at the David A. Boody School to partition and convert its fourth-floor gymnasium into classrooms. At P.S. 80 on Staten Island, 500 students displaced from P.S. 52 overwhelmed the school’s kitchen, forcing P.S. 80 to turn to boxed-lunches to accommodate the 1,800 children now using the building.
"We want to make this comfortable for them," principal Joanne Bukheit said, adding that the school converted its library into a classroom. "We're going to do it as long as the kids need us to do it."
Students did their best to adapt to the changes. Ben Nedrick, 16, a junior at the New York Harbor School, said he would most miss his school’s maritime-oriented classes while he attended classes at Stuyvesant.
“I learned to take care of the fish, and we also grew algae,” he said. “I’m going to feel confined here. I’m used to being surrounded by water.”
Younger students, such as 10-year-old Julianna Munno of P.S. 52, felt nervous about sharing the hallways with older and much larger high schoolers.
“I’m scared because it’s new," she said, "and it’s a big school."