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City moves forward with opening schools in Sandy's aftermath

Despite massive transportation problems, ongoing power outages, and dozens of buildings so severely damaged that they cannot be used in the near future, the city is moving forward with a plan to open schools by Monday, one week after Hurricane Sandy swept across the city.

On Wednesday, Mayor Bloomberg announced that students would return to classes next week and that teachers would be required to report for work on Friday to prepare. Chancellor Dennis Walcott told reporters today that the timeline was firm.

“There are no ifs ands or buts about it,” Walcott said. “They will open. We know they’ll open.”

But exactly where each of the schools will open is an unresolved question. Of the city’s roughly 1,200 school buildings, 174 are still not operational today because of flooding, loss of power, or other damages, Walcott said, a number that had declined by about 25 since Wednesday.

Of them, 44 buildings housing 79 schools are considered “severely damaged” and will have to undergo major repairs before they are safe for students, he said.

The severely damaged schools include Brooklyn’s John Dewey High School, where officials said today a transformer fire had essentially burned through the building’s electrical system, and Beach Channel High School in Queens, where flooding caused the school’s boiler to burst and leak oil into Jamaica Bay. Walcott said the department was now working with city’s Department of Environmental Protection to contain the spill.

Students and teachers from the severely damaged schools, and from schools that still do not have power, will be sent to other locations when classes resume on Monday. The alternate locations, which could involve dividing some schools across multiple sites, had not yet been finalized this afternoon, Walcott said.

Teachers from those schools should hear from the department tonight about where to report tomorrow morning for a planning day Walcott said was meant to let staff “reacclimate to their buildings” after a traumatic week. An email sent to all department employees at 6 p.m. promised that the information would come “later this evening.”

Some teachers have balked at the requirement, arguing that the single day isn’t necessary for teachers at schools that survived the storm unscathed and isn’t sufficient, or even doable, for the staffs of schools that were heavily affected.

“We all left last Friday assuming we’d be in this past Monday, so everyone was prepared,” Beth Schwartz Haft wrote on the teachers union’s Facebook page on Wednesday. “Why do we need to ‘prepare?’ what’s different about next Monday vs. any other Monday?”

But UFT President Michael Mulgrew said teachers should respect the mandate as long as it makes sense for them to do so.

“We are working to make sure the schools are safe for our teachers and students,” said Mulgrew, who lives on Staten Island, one of the areas most devastated by the storm. “We encourage UFT members who do not have pressing family responsibilities caused by the storm and who can safely get to work Friday to do so.”

Teachers who have a valid reason for not reporting for work tomorrow will be able to use a special appeals process to request that the missed time not count against them. Union officials estimate that hundreds of city teachers are among those whose homes were flooded or destroyed.

“We understand the challenge for our workforce and their own unique family challenges. I am definitely empathetic,” Walcott said. “At the same time our folks know how to step forward to really be there on behalf of their students.”

He also said he would understand if some teachers come late tomorrow. With train service interrupted, traffic snarls have paralyzed parts of the city for each of the last two days, and Walcott acknowledged that the department’s requirement for teachers to come to work would add to the congestion.

The city and union have also been working together with the State Education Department to decide how schools should make up the missed days, Walcott said. But so far, he said, they had come to only one conclusion: Students will still have Tuesday, Election Day, off as planned. About 700 school buildings are polling sites, and Walcott said the anticipated heavy turnout would be too much for principals to manage while students were at the building.

The state’s guidelines say that school days missed for inclement weather or other emergencies must be made up. According to the rules, school days off associated with religious holidays are fair game for rescheduling, but weekends and legal holidays are not. And the state education commissioner has the right to forgive up to five missed days, but only if they happen so late in the year that they cannot be made up.

The city usually sets aside some school days for snow make-up days; last year, two days at the end of the school year were turned into training days for teachers to prepare for new learning standards. The same two days could become Hurricane Sandy make-up days this year.

The department is in the process of calibrating other moving pieces that will have to be in place for schools to open safely and smoothly. Walcott said today that many of those logistical issues were under control.

Student transportation, at least by school bus, won’t be a problem, Walcott said. He said that despite widely circulated photographs showing many flooded school buses, 96 percent of the city’s school buses could run their routes today. Trains are still not running in Manhattan below 34th Street because of a widespread power outage there, and there are currently no trains running between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

And Bloomberg said today that the city would consolidate 76 shelters currently housed inside school buildings into eight high schools, meaning that students at those schools will share space with New Yorkers displaced from their homes by the storm.

Walcott said school buildings can handle multiple functions and that students would not be endangered by attending classes in the same building where adults who have lost homes are staying temporarily. “We will make sure that our students are protected and safe and get an education,” he said.

Walcott’s full letter to Department of Education employees, sent this evening, is below.

Dear Colleagues:

This afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg made several announcements related to the City’s response to Hurricane Sandy, outlined below. Please review these developments and continue to monitor the news, nyc.gov, @NYCMayorsOffice and @NYCSchools for the latest information about the City’s response to the storm.

School Remains Closed to Students on Friday

Schools will remain closed and will reopen to students on Monday, November 5. Due to damage and power outages, some schools will remain closed on Monday. Additional guidance will be provided regarding enrollment of displaced students.

Weekend Activities at Schools Rescheduled

For detailed information click here.

School-Based Staff to Report to Schools on Friday

School-based staff should report to work on Friday to prepare for school opening on Monday. We are making accommodations for staff based at the buildings that we are unable to occupy due to damage or power outages. Later this evening we will send detailed information regarding where staff should report tomorrow. Additionally, this information will be made available on the DOE web site, Facebook, and twitter.

Central Office Staff: Administrative Offices Open on Friday

In accordance with city policy, if your office is open and you can safely report to work, please do so – but only if you can get in safely. This includes teachers assigned, Supervisors, Educational Administrators, managers and all other staff working in central and field offices.

Administrative buildings in zone A will remain closed with the exception of essential operations. Employees from administrative offices in zone A may be redeployed by supervisors to alternative work sites.

Additionally, the Tweed and 49-51 Chambers Street offices are currently closed due to power outages or damage. Below is a list of administrative office sites where displaced staff may report and have access to a networked computer. These sites will be able to accommodate all non-school based staff who are displaced.

Because of the lingering effects of the storm, continue to exercise caution and allow extra time for travel to work tomorrow morning. If mass transit services have not yet been restored in your neighborhood, and you have no other safe and feasible way to travel to work, then you should use your judgment and delay your arrival. There will be no penalties for transit-related lateness. If you cannot come to work, you should use annual leave, personal leave/CAR time or compensatory time to stay home.

Continue to use your judgment and ensure your safety first. Administrative offices will be open and staff can report to work or take leave. For those who have no applicable leave balance, leave may be advanced for this purpose. For hourly employees who are unable to come to work, offices should make every effort to schedule make up hours within this pay period if at all possible.

Questions about the policy should be directed to Lawrence Becker at LBecker@schools.nyc.gov or Joann Molter at JMolter@schools.nyc.gov.

Difficulty Reporting to Work

To address the issue of staff who have difficulty reporting to work we have created an appeal process whereby you can provide us with the reason you were unable to report and ask that the day(s) not be deducted from your leave bank. To access the appeals form, click here.

If you have difficulty accessing this link please email SandyLeaveAppeal@schools.nyc.gov or contact HR Connect at 718-935-4000. Please note that by submitting such an appeal and showing confirmation to your timekeeper, no deductions will be made to your leave until your appeal is decided. Hourly employees should also use this same process to appeal to be credited with time. Please note that school-based staff were excused from Monday, October 20 through Thursday, November 1 so they do not need to submit an appeal for those days.

Please check the MTA web site at www.mta.info for the latest on mass transit service; also, please be sure to check www.nyc.gov and the Department of Education web site for any additional information. Please distribute this memo to other staff.

We will continue to update you. Thank you for your support and cooperation.

Sincerely,
Dennis M. Walcott

Weekend Activities at Schools Rescheduled

The Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) scheduled for this Saturday, November 3, has been rescheduled to Saturday, November 17. Accommodations will be made for students with conflicts.

High School interviews, assessments and auditions scheduled for November 3-4 are canceled and will be rescheduled. LaGuardia High School auditions scheduled for November 3-4 will be rescheduled for November 10-11. Reminder: The SHSAT exam scheduled for Sunday, October 28, has been rescheduled for Sunday, November 18. Accommodations will be made for students with conflicts.

The GED Examination that is scheduled for this weekend will be canceled. In addition, all Office of Adult and Continuing Education (OACE) classes for this Saturday are cancelled. Superintendents will be communicating with Principals in District 79/ Alternative Schools and Programs (ASP) and the OACE to update them on disruptions. Please visit our web site for additional information.

The SAT administration scheduled for this weekend (Saturday, November 3 and Sunday, November 4), has been cancelled in the five boroughs of New York City. A makeup date has been scheduled for New York City public schools on Saturday, November 17 for the November 3 test-takers, and Sunday, November 18 for those test-takers who were scheduled to test on Sunday, November 4. Students can also go online and change their test date to a regularly scheduled December administration date.

For ongoing updates, check in with your school guidance counselor next week, visit www.nyc.gov/schools or call 311.

List of Administrative Sites Available for Central and Field Staff to Report Friday

Bldg ID

Address

02M882

333 7th Avenue, New York, NY

06M048

4360 Broadway, New York, NY

05M808

388 West 125th Street, New York, NY

08X833

1230 Zerega Avenue, Bronx, NY

10X815

1 Fordham Plaza, Bronx, NY

07X807

501 Courtland Avenue, Bronx, NY

08X953

3450 East Tremont, Bronx, NY

15K801

65 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY

15K802

131 Livingston Street, Brooklyn, NY

22K995

5618 Flatlands Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

23K808

1665 Saint Marks Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

20K989

415 89th Street, Brooklyn, NY

22K997

1780 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

13K986

335 Adams Street, 4th & 5th Floors, Brooklyn, NY

13K986

335 Adams Street, 6th Floor, Brooklyn, NY

13K986

335 Adams Street, 28th & 29th Floors, Brooklyn, NY

13K831

2 Metro Tech, Brooklyn, NY

18K818

1106 E. 95th Street, Brooklyn, NY

13K813

355 Park Place, Brooklyn, NY

25Q859

30-48 Linden Place, Queens, NY

30Q800

28-11 Queens Plaza North, Queens, NY

30Q980

45 -18 Court Square, Queens NY

27Q823

82-01 Rockaway Blvd, Queens NY

28Q732

90-27 Sutphin Blvd, Queens NY

28Q733

90-01 Sutphin Blvd, 2nd Floor, Queens NY

31R080

Petrides/715 Ocean Terrace- “A” Building, Staten Island, NY

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