Back to School, Bundled Up, but With Lingering Questions

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cots lined the hallways, and toilets were limited or clogged, so some evacuees went to the bathroom on the floor.

Volunteers, gagging at air made more fetid by unwashed bodies, took to wearing masks. “We gave them wipes,” a volunteer said, “but there’s only so much you can do with wipes.”

Custodians spent Sunday scrubbing and mopping, preparing this makeshift storm shelter in Hell’s Kitchen, which at one point housed some 1,000 displaced men, women and children, for the return to its day job — as the High School of Graphic Communication Arts.

The rush to sanitize the school was just one piece of the sprawling, shifting logistical puzzle, some would say nightmare, as the city’s 1.1 million public school students faced an educational landscape drastically altered by Hurricane Sandy as they returned to school, beginning Monday. The city said that 57 schools were too damaged to reopen, which meant the city had to find new places for their 34,000 students. Eight buildings that normally house 24,000 students currently serve as shelters, and are set to reopen on Wednesday, a target several educators believed unfeasible. It was still unclear whether students and teachers would be sharing their buildings with people now using them for shelter. (Graphic Communication Arts housed people evacuated from Bellevue Hospital Center.)

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