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Midday earthquake briefly interrupts back-to-school planning

City schools joined the rest of the East Coast in being jolted out of the workday by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake this afternoon.

Most schools are not in session yet, but some of those that have already opened evacuated their staffs and students when the quake struck just before 2 p.m.

In Harlem, most Democracy Prep Charter School students had been dismissed at 1 p.m., superintendent Seth Andrew said, but those who remained evacuated with their teachers, then were dismissed until tomorrow.

At Teaching Firms of America in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a school that opened yesterday, staff gathered all of its students into a hallway, but school safety offices instructed them that they didn’t need to evacuate.

The Department of Education’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse was evacuated, along with most buildings in the area. Staffers gathered on the steps and on the Chambers Street sidewalk.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott was one of the last people to reenter the building after DOE employees were let back into Tweed just before 2:30 p.m. He told us that the department would be checking on school employees working in the field, including many custodians who are in the process of touching up school buildings for the new year.

DOE staffers said they noticed their chairs shifting beneath them, chandeliers swaying above them, and City Hall’s position shifting in their windows. But other educators said they weren’t even sure an earthquake had struck.

At Girls Prep Charter School on the Lower East Side, where classes have not yet started, many of the 44 teachers initially thought the rumbling beneath them was related to construction on the school building.

“It was a little bit scary, because of all the loose scaffolding in the school,” said Principal Anne Lackritz. “We weren’t sure what happened at first.”

Once it became clear that an earthquake had struck, the teachers evacuated to the street outside, where they stayed for about an hour. Their anxiety quelled, the teachers mostly joked about the incident.

“i thought I was just being really aggressive with the books,” said a teacher, who was stocking shelves at the time.

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