2012-11-30 / Top Stories

Belle Harbor’s PS 114 Holds Controversial Opening

“We’re all one big, happy family, and now we’re back together at 114,” Principal Stephen Grill told students on Tuesday as the school opened for the first time since Superstorm Sandy on October 29.

While attendance has been low in the schools in northern Queens that adopted the local students when the school was ravaged by the storm surge, many parents and their children were glad to get back to the Belle Harbor school that they had been attending for years.

Not everyone was feeling so rosy about the first day back at the Beach 135 Street school.

The storm had battered Belle Harbor and left the building with a floorless gym and a middle school that remained shuttered because it reeks of sewage.

“What are we doing here?” one teacher, who was fighting back tears and declined to give her name for fear that she would be fired, asked New York Times reporter Jenny Anderson. “The custodian told me they didn’t pass the air-quality test, and my room smells.”

Anderson wrote that when the New York City Education Department announced on Monday that P.S./M.S. 114 would open three days earlier than expected, a stew of emotions erupted in private conversations and on the school’s Facebook page, parents said. Was the building safe, and had the air quality been properly tested? Some parents expressed concern that the Education Department was rushing to open the school.

Anderson points out that the fact that parent’s and teacher’s nerves are frayed and emotions fraught is not surprising. Many families at the school have lost their homes and have endured several relocations while grappling with the emotional aftermath of a devastating storm that many watched in the dark alongside their frightened children. They want the routines and familiar comforts of school.

Before the storm, the school enrolled 779 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. On Tuesday, 55.1 percent of the students attended school.

Marge Feinberg, a long time spokeswoman for the Education Department, said that on Saturday officials tested relative humidity, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, among other things at the school.

“There were 26 sets of measurement taken throughout the school building,” Feinberg said, adding that the results showed the air quality was acceptable. “We’re happy to share the information with parents, and we will reach out to the principal about arranging a meeting.”

Parentsweretoldata4p.m.meeting on Tuesday, however, that no testing had been done. Added to the confusion was the fact that the DOE says that the entire auditorium and gymnasium are off limits while students were allowed in the auditorium both Tuesday and Wednesday. Principal Stephen Grill told parents that he was told that only the stage area of the auditorium was off limits.

Meanwhile most of the students seemed glad to be back with friends they have not seen in a month, sharing stories about the storm and its aftermath.

“I wish everybody was back,” one seventh grader said. “We probably won’t see the rest of the kids until next year – if ever.”

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