Students from the High School of Graphic Communication Arts and several small high schools returned to their Hell’s Kitchen building for the first time since Hurricane Sandy with trepidation.
They had heard on the local news and read on Facebook that their school building was in disarray after serving as a shelter for more than 1,000 people displaced by the hurricane which destroyed homes and flooded many parts of the city. Many received emails from their principals and teachers reassuring them that the schools would be ready for them to return to normal, but some weren’t convinced their classes were ready to pick up where they left off on Friday, Oct. 26, the last time the schools’ held classes.
“Yeah, I’m worried. It’s pretty disgusting,” said Yaina Reyes, a junior at Graphics, referring to conditions she observed in a news report about the school’s hurricane shelter earlier this week.
City officials originally planned to reopen Graphics to students Monday, while keeping its hundreds of shelter residents in place, even as Principal Brendan Lyons petitioned the department to send his students somewhere else on Monday, citing the turmoil that sharing the space might cause.
“If it’s not sanitary, it will be sanitary,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott told reporters at the time. But as reports of the school’s disarray trickled in, officials changed their plans. Instead of opening it to students on Monday, the city began shutting the Graphics shelter down earlier this week and relocating evacuees who had been staying there. Wednesday marks the school’s first day back in operation.
Of the seven other school buildings that have served as shelters, four others are opening today with small numbers of evacuees still living inside. Three others are not yet ready for students to return, but city officials said on Tuesday they hoped that would change by Thursday.
As Reyes rounded the corner of 49th Street and 9th Avenue en route to the entrance, she added that the large Career and Technical Education high school’s problems stretch far beyond the challenges of past week, and could get worse now that students are back. School leaders came under fire from students and staff last month when scheduling problems dominated the first weeks of school.
“Graphics is such a mess anyway. People are getting more reckless because of the principal, and this hurricane messed up the whole flow even more.”
Sophomore Ladre Grier said she was also more worried about resuming classes than about sanitation in the building. “I’m just glad they had the place to stay in,” she said. Grier said she was able to catch up on homework in all of her classes assigned before the hurricane hit, but did not receive any emails from teachers instructing her on how to prepare for the day’s lessons.
Another Graphics senior said he had been able to do new classwork in the past week, but only because he is enrolled in an online credit recovery class.
Francyne Villavicencio, a senior, said she did not receive updates from her teachers during the hurricane either, and found that discouraging. “Some of us are seniors and this is the year we need to be up on everything,” she said.
Despite the knowledge that she still had courses and Regents exams to pass before graduation this year, Villavicencio said she was “not looking forward” to returning to school today because of lingering concerns about how the school held up while serving as a shelter. But her friend Ryan Santos, a junior at the Business of Sports High School, another school in the building, told her he received a reassuring email from administrators yesterday.
“They said they were cleaning up the school, making it more clean than it was already,” he said.
A Graphics administrator told GothamSchools in a message that the school was “a lot cleaner,” this morning than it was over the past week. But the staffer added that it would take yet more time for the school to return to normal.
“I think it will take a while,” the staffer wrote. But, “I know that many students are looking forward to going back to school because it’s a stable place for most of them.”