After sandy

22 schools shut for 7th straight day; no buses for some students

Students in 22 city schools will miss a seventh straight day of class on Wednesday while the Department of Education continues to restore buildings damaged and disrupted by Hurricane Sandy.

And thousands of other students will have to make their way to school on their own because the department does not have enough buses to move all of the students who need transportation.

After calling local private bus companies and petitioning the state and federal emergency relief organizations, the city has rounded up more than 100 additional buses to join the 7,400 that ran on Monday, officials said this evening. But still, buses will serve students at fewer than half of the 43 schools that are so severely damaged that they must be moved. Those schools, which together enroll about 20,000 students, are opening for the first time on Wednesday.

A major problem, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said this evening, is that the department’s transportation hub, located in Long Island City, still does not have power. The department can only add new routes, not make the ones it already operates more efficient, while the computer system that programs the city’s 7,700 school bus routes is down, he said.

“We don’t have access to any of that,” he said. “Everything we are doing at this point is by hand.”

Families are finding out today whether their children will have a ride to school. Students and parents at schools without busing will be given Metrocards — but only after they make their way to their closed schools first. The department will reimburse families for the trip.

For high school students, who do not typically get bused, the department will provide Metrocards, and students who live on the Rockaways, where public transportation still has not been restored, will be able to take school buses to their relocated schools. But because of the bus shortage, they will have to wait until 10 a.m. to board buses that have already run one route.

High school students who live in the Rockaways but attend schools that survived the storm unscathed might have an even harder time leaving the peninsula: Polakow-Suransky said he did not know whether the department planned to bus them at all.

In buildings that will begin co-locations on Wednesday, principals and teachers from the host and relocated schools worked together today to plan how space and supplies will be shared. Where possible, teachers brought materials from their damaged schools to the new sites, and Polakow-Suransky said the department had given each school extra funds for supplies.

That planning process will get underway tomorrow for 13 Queens schools — with 6,000 students — that still do not have power and must be relocated. Polakow-Suransky said it was “unlikely” that most of the schools would have their power restored before Thursday, when students are expected to report to new locations.

The other nine schools, enrolling 7,000 students, that will not reopen to students until at least Thursday are located on three high school campuses that have been used as shelters since the storm.

One of the campuses that cannot reopen tomorrow is John Jay High School in Brooklyn, where Mayor Bloomberg said during a news conference that about a dozen evacuees had come down with “what we believe to be a stomach virus.” The department expects that its four schools will be able to open on Thursday, after a vigorous cleaning. But one of the schools, Millennium Brooklyn High School, is choosing not to wait: Its website instructs students to report Wednesday to nearby P.S. 321.

Two other buildings that have served as shelters will not be ready to reopen to students on Wednesday because the city is reducing the number of evacuees staying in them. At Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn, there are still 800 evacuees, and George Washington Campus in Manhattan received a new influx of people needing housing today, Polakow-Suransky said.

Students at five other campuses that have been used as shelters will return on Wednesday, most to buildings that still house some evacuees. Manhattan’s High School of Graphic Communication Arts, where teachers decried conditions in the building last week, has been closed as a shelter site.

And among the schools in operation tomorrow, 35 still will not have heat. Department officials said they are providing warm meals and urging students to bundle up against the cold, which has become bitter this week.

Polakow-Suransky said the schools that are closed for an additional day will have to make the time up in the future, posing a scheduling challenge that grows as the days without classes stack up. But he said the department was trying whenever possible to urge students to learn outside of school.

And with a potentially damaging northeaster bearing down on the city, he emphasized that the department’s recovery has proceded swiftly given the magnitude of destruction after Sandy. On Sunday, more than 200 schools were without power and 65 schools were expected to have to relocated.

“Obviously the reason that we’re moving heaven and earth and why we’re pushing so hard to get these schools open is we want to have students in school,” Polakow-Suransky said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.