Work continues Wednesday at Jericho High School and Middle School after...

Work continues Wednesday at Jericho High School and Middle School after a burst pipe led to the building closing last week. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Jericho High School and Middle School, which have been closed since Nov. 21 following a major water leak in a subbasement, will return to classes Thursday, ending several challenging days when teachers had to pivot to remote learning, Superintendent Henry Grishman said Wednesday.

Electricians and cleanup crews have been working double shifts since the flooding, which covered electrical equipment that serves the building that holds both schools, Grishman said.

"We are happy to report to our school community that we will be in full and safe operation tomorrow morning," Grishman said late Wednesday afternoon.

Grishman said a 1 1/2-inch water pipe had burst under the high school early Nov. 21, quickly filling the subbasement with 7 feet of water. PSEG Long Island shut down electricity to the building, leaving it without heat. School officials were able to notify high school students to stay home, but middle school students, who start earlier in the day, were dismissed and sent home on buses at 9:40 a.m. that day, he said.

"Without heat and electric, it was not safe having kids there," Grishman said, adding that some 2,000 students were affected.

The missed day of instruction Nov. 21 will be counted as a snow day, and students will not need to make it up, he said. Schools were slated to be closed the next day for parent-teacher conferences, which occurred on the Zoom platform. Schools were closed last Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving.

Grishman said crews needed to replace two major electrical panels, each larger than a refrigerator. The repairs are expected to cost several hundred thousand dollars, the great majority of which will be paid by insurance, he said.

The switch to remote learning began Monday. Instructors taught their classes from home on Zoom and other platforms. Grishman said the transition to distance learning was relatively smooth, thanks to the experience that staff and students had with it during the pandemic.

"We instituted tech support, and have received only about 25 calls for help," Grishman said.

Max Scharf, a junior at the high school, said switching back to remote learning was pretty easy, but the learning was filled with stops and starts as teachers had to remind students to turn off their computer microphones and handle other issues.

"It's never fluid; it never feels genuine and engaging," Scharf, 16, said about remote learning. "Teachers ask questions and are met with complete silence." 

Suzanne Valenza, an English teacher at the high school, said she had planned to teach her creative-writing students about writing food memoirs this week but pivoted to teaching some poetry.

“I hate it,” she said of remote teaching. “We know it doesn’t work.”

Still, Valenza said, the remote lessons provided meaningful learning experiences for her students. Her journalism class used the time to remotely interview the superintendent and an assistant superintendent about the flood situation, which she said was a lot of fun for the class.

High school music teacher Ronald Verderber said going back to remote learning was challenging. Teachers had already returned the Chromebooks provided by the school for the pandemic, and he had to use his home computer, which required various updates and tweaks in order to manage distance learning.

The return to distance learning brought back some unpleasant memories of the pandemic, he said.

"The bright side is that we know it will be over shortly, as opposed to the last time when we thought it would be over in a couple of days and it turned out to be a year and a half," Verderber said.

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