Tag Archives: hurricane

Sandy Closes Schools, Sandy Opens Schools

Most teacher folk I know are outraged that, as a result of the five days NYC schools were closed due to Hurricane Sandy and the need to meet a minimum number of attendance days (per New York State law), three days (plus a half-day) that would have previously been non-attendance days have been switched. In other words: kids will be in for four days they normally wouldn’t have.

I can definitely see both sides of the issue here, but I want to go over some of the many factors that exist.

Before I do, though, I must give credit to Arthur Goldstein, who wrote this excellent letter to UFT President Michael Mulgrew. I draw plenty of inspiration from his words as I share my thoughts on the situation.

Some arguments and some points:

This isn’t fair. That’s what some said to me when they found out. In a sense, it’s perfectly fair. During the week of the Sandy closures, I sat in my warm apartment watching the news, thanking my lucky stars I wasn’t affected. Sure, it was a tense week, as I was out of contact with many people who I knew were in trouble, but materially, physically, and emotionally, I lost nothing. For me, it was really a “week off,” though like I said, hardly a vacation. In this spirit, it’s no skin off my back to go to to work on those days.

The other side of this, though, is all those NYC DOE employees who were affected by Sandy. I’d be interested to know just how many total employees live in the Rockaways, lower Manhattan, Staten Island, Long Beach, or on the south shore of Long Island, all areas that were badly hit. Unlike me, these people didn’t have the luxury of relaxing inside as the storm and its aftereffects raged. No, they spent their week doing all different kinds of things: witnessing their homes burn down; being caught in neck-deep flood waters; shivering in homes without gas, electric, or heat; sleeping in shelters; watching sewage come up through their sinks; and much, much worse.

For them, Sandy week was not a week off. It was a week from hell. Many of my colleagues who felt the worst effects still managed to make it to work everyday, even though they were displaced from their homes. They shouldn’t have to work the extra days. They never got the time off I did.

So, what are you doing this February break? In my youth, the mid-winter recess meant we were going to Florida for our annual visit to the grandparents’ house and all the fun that entailed. Many students look forward to the break as I did because it means a trip somewhere. Now, despite the Mayor believing that many parents rely on schools to keep their kids under watch, don’t think for a second that if families already have vacation plans, they won’t be keeping them. I actually think we’ll see a large dip in attendance February 20-22: days that were previously part of the break but are now attendance days.

But I have all this paper work to do. June 4 was to be a clerical half-day, so that our morning could be spent teaching and our afternoon be spent completing report cards and cumulative records in preparation for the end of the year, which also brings with it reorganization of classes and record exchange. The time allotted for this work is precious. In my school, we basically all sit in our rooms in silence and get it done. And it’s wonderful.

This June 4, kids will be with us all day, meaning one less 3.5 hour block to do extremely important work against a deadline. My only guess is that on Brooklyn-Queens Day, which is a non-attendance day for students, we will be given time to complete records, only under more pressure because it’s later in the week.

Like I said, I see all sides of this issue. In a perfect world, my dear colleagues in school and out who suffered the worst – people who lost homes or are continuing to gut and rebuild – would not be required to work these three-plus extra days because they never had a day off anyway. But where do you draw the line? How do you determine who fits the criteria?

I don’t believe kids should be kept out of school, but I also don’t believe this is as cut and dry as the law says. This storm is unprecedented in our history, so exceptions and nuance must apply.

I have no simple solution, only these thoughts. What real ideas and solutions do you propose?

After Sandy, A School Community Comes Together for Its Own

It’s amazing the way people come together for good when the chips are truly down. Community is, indeed, an incredible force.

Having now distributed the cash we collected for staff members affected by Hurricane Sandy – people who lost so so much – I am able to look back at the whirlwind experience it was to collect the donations and give them out.

I was knocked speechless when I took the first donation: a crisp $100 bill. Donations continued to come in on a steady basis with people showing similar generosity. Some asked sheepishly what others were giving, and expressed disappointment that they couldn’t give more than they did. My answer was the same each time: “This is a beautiful donation.” And they all were.

We had a group of folks we planned to give the money to. It was all supposed to be a surprise, but eventually word got around to me that some people on the list were planning to decline the money. They felt there was no reason for them to accept it when others were dealing with much more than they were.

As incredible as it was for colleagues to come up to me all week with envelopes of cash and checks, I was perhaps most moved by the gestures of those who said, “Others need it more than me.” And try as I did to convince them that people wanted them to have it, they wouldn’t budge. They passed on their cut so that others could get more. It’s hard for me to even express how touched I was by that. To be sure, when they first told me they wouldn’t take the money, I was disappointed and bordering on indignant, but the more I thought about it, I totally understood why. Needless to say, I gained plenty of respect for them.

I’m proud to say we raised more than $3,000 from the staff. The recipients were overwhelmed with gratitude and shock when I presented them their portions. You always wish you can do more, but my colleagues should be proud for having done what they did. We all hope it helps people start moving forward.

Related: Sandy Left Tons of Destruction. Now What Can I Do About It?

Sandy Left Tons of Destruction. Now What Can I Do About It?

Sandy, you suck.

The so-called “superstorm” may have been amazing in its magnitude and historic impact, but for too many people, Sandy was an unwelcome house guest who unapologetically trashed the place before leaving. She didn’t even have the decency to say, “good-bye”.

When schools were closed in the wake of the storm, I kept in touch with people in affected areas via text or calls as much as possible. Cell service was terribly spotty so communications sometimes took a day or two to get out and back. I got bits and pieces of everyone’s stories – tiny inklings of their concerns and misery.

When we returned this week, though, I had a chance to hear everyone’s stories in fuller detail, and I must say, they’re bad. Staff in my school – many of whom live on Long Island – remain without power today, nine days later. Unfortunately, that is the best case scenario among those affected.

Too many people are totally displaced from their homes. A lack of power is one thing. A lack of heat and gas are quite different. Some people lost major amounts of property from the floods Sandy caused. Goodbye furniture, fencing, carpeting, photographs, clothes, cars, and normalcy.

When someone dealing with this catastrophe tells me their neighborhood is like a “war zone,” I have to believe it. Army trucks driving down the streets tend to create that feeling.

It all makes me feel a bit helpless and even guilty. Thankfully, I dodged the storm’s major bullets. Never lost power, never lost heat. My car is fine and I was lucky to have a full tank of gas before the storm hit (so I don’t yet know the pleasure of waiting 3 hours for gas that may not even be available). It is difficult to see others in such distress when I’m able to come home, open up my fridge for a snack and sit down to write a blog while listening to Spotify, lights off only by choice.

I want to help these good people going through this trying time.

That’s why I was totally pumped to hear from a colleague who thought it might be a good idea to take up a collection of clothes from staff to donate to the Breezy Point residents sheltering near our school. What a great way to make an impact on our fellow New Yorkers.

As we discussed the idea and brought others into the discussion, we came to agreement that our priority should be to focus first on our own affected staff. Breezy Point victims were reportedly receiving copious amounts of donations at the shelter, and it just wouldn’t have seemed right to start expanding our efforts outside of school when there were people in school who might need our assistance, too.

Today, everyone in the school received an e-mail outlining our plans for collecting money, toiletries, and clothes to help relieve some of the pressure Sandy has exerted on staff. It is my sincere hope that people are able to unite for everyone and help them begin to move forward in some small way.

I know it’s trite – and maybe even obnoxious to the untrained ear – if I say something like, “We’re New Yorkers and we’ll get through this.” Sorry, but it’s true. I hope my colleagues and I can play a small part.

Writing on the Storm, Day 2

The first sign the storm had mostly passed was I heard no wind when I woke up this morning. There’s still wind but it’s nothing like what we saw yesterday, or I imagine, overnight. While we are in the clear weather-wise, the sun rose on a very sobering, sad reality for many in this area.

Schools are closed again today and will be closed again tomorrow. Hospitals were evacuated overnight. The subway system is flooded with saltwater (basically the worst case scenario) and at places in lower Manhattan, the East River and Hudson River met on land.

I went for a walk down to the water before 10 today. Luckily, my neighborhood has largely been spared. Some big branches are down, but I saw no fallen trees, crushed cars, or damaged homes.

I and my immediate family were spared power outages, flooding, and property damage. Unfortunately, many family members and friends are not so fortunate. I know many people who are in the dark, including most everyone I know on Long Island, where 90% of homes are powerless. I know people who had their cars totaled by water, who had their houses flooded, and who were forced to leave at the height of the storm. It’s scary to hear about it – imagine what it’s like for them to live it.

It is expected that the damage and cost of this storm will be in excess of 35 billion dollars. All of us who are capable ought to lend a helping hand, either by making a donation or providing manual assistance.

Writing on the Storm

Greetings, live from New York City, where by all accounts, we are about to experience something the area’s never seen.

Sandy is close to making landfall south of us, and situated where we are, we’re going to really feel her wrath. Tunnels in the city are closed, subways and buses are closed, and schools are closed. The city may not be sleeping, but it is certainly lying in wait for what could be considered catastrophic conditions.

The moon is new, and although flooding has started in coastal areas, it only stands to get worse tonight at high tide. Waters are expected to rise to 11 feet or more. Winds are expected to get up to 90 mph in places. If it sounds scary, that’s because it is.

I’m hunkered down in my apartment, watching the weather worsen, listening to the howls of wind whipping by. I’m texting and calling family and friends around the area, checking on their safety and updating on mine. I’ve got dinner in the crockpot and some nice healthy cookies just came out of the oven. Who knows if I’ll have this luxury once things really ramp up? In the event that power and/or water goes, I’ve got a lantern, flashlight, matches, camping stove, bottles of water, and a full tub waiting.

Tempting as it is for me (former journalism wannabe) to go out and assess the situation and experience it, that’s probably not the smartest idea. If you’re affected by the storm, be smart and stay inside.