School districts scramble to reopen after Sandy

UPDATED 11/1/12

In the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, school districts across the region are facing a varying array of challenges to getting their classrooms back to normal.

Two days after the brunt of the storm hit, the Lower Merion School District still lacked power at half of its schools. Like many districts across the region, the district was forced to cancel classes Wednesday for a third straight day, giving around 7,000 kids the Halloween holiday off.

Late Wednesday distict officials announced that schools would remain closed through Thursday.

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District spokesman Douglas Young says things were still so bad Tuesday that the district website wasn’t working. To get updates out to parents, district officials turned to a tool more typically associated with their students: social media.

“Because we couldn’t use our website, we actually had to use social media, so for some folks the first way that they found out plans for the school district to close school today was through Twitter,” said Young. “So we just saw a lot of re-tweets and a lot of comments.”

Back in action

Some students, though, did return to school Wednesday.

Mount Laurel, New Jersey, school district spokesman Marie Reynolds said she and the superintendent weighed all possibilities before resuming classes for their 2,100 students.

“She and I went back and forth at least, I would say, a dozen, 18 times between the weekend and this morning,” said Reynolds.

In Pennsylvania’s Colonial School District, things seemed to be going smoothly Wednesday.

“We had a couple of phone calls of folks concerned because they’re still without power and weren’t sure they’d be able to know what time it was in order to make the school buses,” said Dave Sherman, spokesman for the district, which operates seven schools in Plymouth, Whitemarsh and Conshocken townships.

“But by and large, everybody has been quite cooperative and we have a very full attendance today,” he said.

Moving forward

Given the prospect of heavy winter storms ahead, one big question looms over all districts: How will these days be made up? Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey are required by state law to offer 180 school days per year. Reynolds offers a probable solution,

“We have a tentative last day of school in June, but that’s always subject to whatever snow days or emergency days are taken off during the year,” she said.

So for many in the region, a long Halloween holiday now, may just mean a shorter summer is just around the bend.

UPDATE: A previous version of this story followed the inital reports that most of the Lower Merion school district would reopen Thursday.  Lower Merion went back on that announcement after PECO officials were unable to restore power to four of its school buildings.

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