Students in Rockaway schools go elsewhere, or nowhere at all

Just blocks away from P.S./M.S. 114 in Belle Harbor, a hard-hit neighborhood on the Rockaway peninsula, homes were heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

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Dozens of students from Coney Island and affected areas in Staten Island have also withdrawn from their schools and enrolled elsewhere in the city, according to the department’s data.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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.