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Principals get guidance late, and teachers later, for first day back

The good news came by email: Teachers facing snarled commutes and logistical headaches in the wake of Hurricane Sandy would not have to report to their schools today, the first workday after the storm, until 10 a.m.

The bad news was that the information did not arrive until nearly midnight on Thursday, long after many of the teachers had gone to bed.

For thousands of teachers who work in schools that were damaged by the storm, the late-night email also contained instructions about where they should report today for a workday that Chancellor Dennis Walcott said was meant to let them “reacclimate to their buildings” after a traumatic week.

“I’d like to plan my commute tomorrow, esp if I have to cross boros. Would be nice to know before I go to bed pls?” high school teacher Binn Thai wrote on Twitter shortly before 10 p.m. Thai’s school is on the Lower East Side, which is still without power.

Mayor Bloomberg announced midday on Wednesday that today would be a workday for city teachers. But nearly 200 school buildings were so heavily damaged by the storm that they still cannot be used. In an email to principals sent Thursday just before 6 p.m., Walcott promised principals that information about alternate locations for storm-affected schools would come “later this evening.”

But when the department informed principals at 10 p.m. about the delayed start time, it did not include a list of relocated schools.

Instead, it told principals at schools that would have to relocate to be on the lookout for a followup message “shortly.” Principals who did not receive a message should assume that their schools are operational and report there with their staffs, the message said.

The department finally published a list containing alternate locations for teachers at more than 200 schools at nearly midnight — just eight hours before many teachers would begin their regular school day. Some teachers reported that the list did not arrive in their inboxes until closer to 1 a.m., so they woke early after allowing extra time for their commutes today.

Department of Education officials explained that list’s late arrival was a result of rapidly changing conditions on the ground, as some schools gained or lost power late into Thursday evening.

“We had teams in the field all day and into the evening assessing conditions on the ground to ensure we don’t send staff into unsafe buildings,” said Erin Hughes, a spokeswoman, late Thursday. “This is a major disaster and the situation is rapidly evolving, and we appreciate how patient our staff have been and will continue to be as we work to get our students back to school.”

The UFT, whose website and phone lines went down Monday night with Lower Manhattan’s power, kept members updated about the lack of information on its Facebook page throughout the evening.

“The last communication we received from the DOE was that the list would not be ready until 9 p.m,” read one message. “It’s now past 10 p.m. and no list has materialized. It’s ridiculous.”

Some teachers posted comments on the UFT’s Facebook page and elsewhere online lambasting Bloomberg and the department for the spotty information. But others said the uncertainty was understandable — and proof that it did not make sense for teachers to be required to report for work today, while many neighborhoods still lack power and some trains still are not running.

“If the city is too overwhelmed to figure this out, which is understandable given how much they need to do, then don’t ask us to come in,” a teacher from a Manhattan school that currently does not have power told GothamSchools.

Some schools set up contingency plans before they heard fromt the department, and the guidance that principals received told them to stick with their own plans for an alternate location if they had already made one. Kathleen Elvin, principal of Brooklyn’s John Dewey High School, which was heavily damaged by an electrical fire on Tuesday, told teachers on Thursday that information about an alternate location would be posted on the school’s front door today. The school’s alternate location is more than three miles away.

The message that principals received at 10 p.m. reminded them that the department had waived all penalties for transit-related lateness. It also told them that they could decide to allow teachers to bring their children to work today.

The message also contained guidance about how to welcome students and families back to school next week and how to connect teachers and families who need assistance with crisis services. The complete email is below.

Dear Principals,

I realize this may be a difficult time for many of you both personally and professionally as you deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I want to thank you again, as well as all the teachers, administrators and parents for their efforts during the preparation and recovery of the storm. We are eager to get our 1.1 million students back in the classroom.

Below is guidance to support the reopening of schools tomorrow. I am also providing information on canceled and rescheduled events due to Hurricane Sandy, which can be seen here. This page will be updated as more information becomes available.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to your students and school communities during this difficult time. I recognize this email is reaching you at a late hour and apologize for the timing. We will be in touch again tomorrow with additional information.

Dennis M. Walcott

Guidance for Staff

Tomorrow, all staff should report to school at 10 a.m. Currently there are some school buildings without power or with severe damage from the hurricane. As a result, these schools will co-locate for tomorrow; impacted principals will receive an additional email shortly with information regarding where staff should report, unless alternate arrangements have already been made. Please note that your building’s status is based on information we have collected over the last couple of days; if anything has changed, please let your network leader know immediately. If you do not receive a second email shortly, you and your staff should report to your regular location. This information will be emailed to all staff later this evening and also made available on the DOE web site, Facebook, and Twitter.

School Opening Checklist

Principals may use the school opening checklist that is already posted on the school opening web site. Principals are asked to focus on the relevant areas of the checklist that address organizational changes and any post-hurricane challenges. Although not mandated, you are encouraged to use the checklist to assess your school’s readiness for the re-opening of schools. This checklist is for your internal planning and does not need to be submitted to your network; please feel free to share it with your staff. For questions and support, contact your network leader.

Welcoming Back Staff and Students

Pasted below is a list of recommended steps and resources to consider as your staff and students return to school.

Recording Teacher Attendance in Galaxy

It is important to record teacher attendance in Galaxy by 11:00 a.m. This allows us to determine where to assign additional teachers on Monday. Specific instructions will be available on the sign-in page and also on the screen where you make entries. Principals at schools without internet connectivity can submit attendance tracking by calling HR Connect at (718) 935-4000.

Schools Without Internet

Staff at schools without internet connectivity should report as normal. Principals should be in contact with their networks for support.

Policies on Lateness, Work Hours, and Bringing Children to Work

As the Chancellor has communicated throughout the week, 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. Principals may release non-instructional staff early depending on the needs of their school and whether they can utilize the staff effectively. Staff released early will have time deducted from their pay. Individual principals have discretion over whether to allow their staff to bring children to work.

Principals’ Weekly

Principals’ Weekly will not be sent this week. Please note that some deadlines that were previously messaged in Principals’ Weekly have been adjusted and will be noted in next week’s issue.

* * * * * *


As we welcome back staff and prepare for students’ return, it is important to take some time to check in with school community members about their experiences over the last several days and to talk with them about their well-being.

Supporting Staff

As staff return to school, please consider:

  • providing an opportunity for staff members to articulate what they need in getting through the next several days;
  • giving staff members an opportunity to share their concerns on how best to support students;
  • activating your school crisis response team;
  • updating staff on ongoing communication protocols;
  • updating the school’s staff and parent contact information;
  • planning to open a space in your school for students to go for counseling services; and
  • preparing crisis resources for staff.

Supporting Students

All students have been affected to some extent by Hurricane Sandy. Regardless of students’ ages, it is important to consider:

  • providing them with opportunities to discuss their experiences;
  • validating the range of feelings they may have regarding what has happened;
  • answering their questions honestly; and
  • focusing on students’ strengths.

Encourage staff members who learn of specific student and family needs to share this information with you or your designee.

Online Resources

If you have questions regarding this information or require additional assistance, please contact your network leader.

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