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Students in Rockaway schools go elsewhere, or nowhere at all

Hundreds of students, mostly middle class, have fled their Far Rockaway schools to enroll somewhere else since Hurricane Sandy knocked the peninsula out of commission.

But attendance data suggests that many other Far Rockaway students are simply not attending school in the first days that the city has provided schools for them.

Attendance dropped slightly citywide today, from 87 percent on Wednesday to 82.6 percent, a decline that officials attributed to the snowstorm. “Attendance from both teachers and students, given the storm, was actually reasonably good,” Mayor Bloomberg said during a news conference.

The attendance rate fell more dramatically for students in 56 schools relocated because of damage from Hurricane Sandy. Just 30 percent of students in those schools were in class today, while students in relocated schools had a 43 percent attendance rate on Wednesday, their first day back after the storm.

Driving the decline was the addition of 13 new relocations that started today, all for Queens schools without power. Most of the schools without power are on the Rockaway peninsula, which still does not have subway service, and the Department of Education has been unable to muster enough buses to transport all students from the peninsula, instead offering to reimburse families who make their own way to school. Some of the schools where relocations began today posted attendance rates below 1 percent.

Overall, in District 27 today, which contains several neighborhoods in addition to those on the Rockaway peninsula, 26 schools posted attendance rates below 20 percent.

A few of the schools with low attendance rates have seen many of their families withdraw in recent days after the city loosened enrollment rules to help families displaced by Sandy. A total of 460 students have left District 27 in the last three days due to Hurricane Sandy, according to enrollment data released by the city education department today, with most enrolling in nearby District 22.

Dozens of students from Coney Island and affected areas in Staten Island have also withdrawn from their schools and enrolled elsewhere in the city, according to the department’s data.

But more students have left schools in the Rockaways than from anywhere else. And the majority of those students came from M.S./P.S. 114, located on the west end of the peninsula, which includes the beachfront neighborhoods of Belle Harbor and Breezy Point.

Unlike Far Rockaway schools on the east end, where many students live in low-income public housing, M.S./P.S. 114 is made up largely of white students who do not qualify for free lunch funded by Title I grants. The free-lunch rate at the school is less than 15 percent.

Houses in the more affluent enclaves were devastated by 14-foot storm surges that flooded basements and crashed into foundations. In Breezy Point, more than 100 houses burnt to the ground during the storm.

Over the weekend, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told principals that they were required to accept displaced students who had temporarily moved into the school’s neighborhood zone, even if doing so caused crowding. In keeping with law about students in temporary housing, families who say they are displaced do not have to provide any proof of residence.

High school students were told to visit an enrollment office before picking a new school. In most cases, the department does not allow high school transfers because a student has moved, unless his new commute exceeds 90 minutes.

The department is also allowing families who were not displaced but who do not want to send their children on long commutes to relocated schools to attend school closer to home. But the department is warning that those students will have to return to their regular school once it reopens, which could be soon.

The majority of Far Rockaway students who have enrolled in new schools have enrolled in District 22. P.S. 207 has received 79 students, the most of any school.

Coney Island, has lost 93 students since Nov. 5 and District 31 — all of Staten Island — has seen movement of 55 students.

The department will be adding busing for five additional Queens schools on Friday, officials announced late today.

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