As nor'easter hits, some schools dismiss students early
School officials in Nassau and Suffolk Wednesday were hopeful that classes in weatherworn districts would continue or resume Thursday despite the impact of Wednesday's nor'easter, plus lingering power glitches and transportation problems from superstorm Sandy.
Educators in some districts cautioned last night that iffy conditions may mean delayed openings this morning, and said parents would be notified via email or telephone calls. They also suggested that parents and students check district websites.
Students in about 40 districts were back in class Wednesday for the first time since Sandy struck on Oct. 29. In some, they were dismissed before noon because of spotty power or concerns for student safety as high winds and wet snow bore down on the Island's fragile, patched-up electrical grid.
"We used a little chewing gum and some Band-Aids to get power back, so I'm concerned there are going to be additional power outages," Jericho Superintendent Henry Grishman said as 3,200 students returned to the classroom. "Many of these fixes have been temporary."
Nearly all of the districts that reopened Wednesday canceled afternoon and evening activities such as after-school child care, night school and meetings because of the nor'easter.
In Jericho, where half of the homes in the district still were without power, Grishman said student attendance was at 96 percent, after the closure all five days last week as well as Monday and Tuesday. The district did not dismiss students early.
Returning to the classroom, even under compromised conditions, was pivotal for some families recovering from the storm and trying to resume daily routines.
But in several districts, the school day remained difficult.
A transformer blew at Half Hollow Hills High School East, prompting the school to close early. Buses were taking students home as of 11:30 a.m., officials said. "We are expecting LIPA to make the repair. That would be our hope," said Patrick Harrigan, assistant superintendent for districtwide administration. The school website said schools will be closed Thursday.
William Floyd's Hobart Elementary had a partial loss of power. The district still held a full day of classes, according to a note on their website.
Glen Cove schools expect to reopen Thursday with the exception of the middle school building, due to lack of heat. The district's prekindergarten program will remain closed, officials said.
Sachem, the Island's second-largest district, also had an early dismissal due to scattered power outages.
Michael Mensch, deputy superintendent of Western Suffolk BOCES, said the persistent fuel shortage also is taking a toll on districts. While the majority of the larger buses use diesel fuel, smaller vehicles and vans run on gasoline. Faculty and staffers are having trouble getting to work.
"The gas thing caught everyone off-guard," Mensch said. "Teachers live all over Long Island."
Many districts were closed all last week, an unprecedented length of time on the Island because of weather. A few districts reopened on Tuesday, even though schools usually are closed on Election Day.
Nearly 60 school districts had said earlier in the week they expected to reopen Wednesday or were considering doing so. Many stuck to that plan, despite the predicted storm.
"Nobody wants to be out of school this long," said Hampton Bays Superintendent Lars Clemensen, whose district reopened on Monday and Wednesday had an early dismissal. "It is important to be back to school."