Teachers, Students and Evacuees Co-Exist as Schools Set to Resume

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The 7th Floor Cafeteria of Brooklyn Tech is filled with nursing home evacuees instead of students. (Marianne McCune/WNYC)

Teachers were back in school Friday, preparing for Monday’s reopening.  But eight public schools are still doing double duty as shelters for those displaced by flooding from Sandy. At Brooklyn Tech, the borough's most sought after public high school, students will share their building with the elderly and people with mental and physical disabilities. Some are apprehensive.

On Friday, Brooklyn Tech was housing about 400 people from nursing homes and homes for people with mental and physical disabilities.

They were joined by 200 of Brooklyn Tech’s 250 teachers, who trekked to school to meet with their principal. Even the school’s athletic director, who lost his house this week to the fire in Breezy Point, showed up. Many were eager to hear how the building will function Monday with hundreds of elderly and disabled evacuees plus 5,500 students.

“It’s a very crowded school so it’s hard to imagine,” Social Studies teacher Serge Avery said. “You know, the question is how well schools and hospitals can function together.”

Outside the entrance to the school’s main hall and huge auditorium – said to be the largest in Brooklyn – a dozen evacuees smoked cigarettes and chatted with friends from facilities in Far Rockaway and Coney Island. A few were talking to themselves. Cynthia Shield was among many to explain they did not evacuate before the storm and were told to stay put.

Looking outside the window, she said she saw water that was waste high.

But she said she wasn't scared. The staff at Surf Manor Adult Home in Coney Island stayed with them.

“They brought us good food to our rooms, they gave us cereal for breakfast. They treated us good,” said Shield.

Down the bock, Edward Ezer says he wasn't scared either, despite the speed with which water was rushing outside his Far Rockaway home. "I wasn't frightened because I was in Israel in the army during the October war," he said. Ezer has lived in New York facing the ocean for 25 years at the Chai Home for Adults for people with physical or mental disabilities.

"As far as I know," he said, "my last diagnosis was chronic paranoia and schizophrenia. And I don't argue with it."

It's unclear when evacuees will return to their homes. With Brooklyn Tech students headed back Monday, the Department of Homeless Services is trying to reduce its footprint at the school. The population at the shelter is already half what it was earlier in the week. On Friday, returning teachers were restricted to the 5th and 6th floors of the nine-story building. But school administrators hope they'll have much more space come Monday.

So does Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond. "It's very hard to predict," he said Friday afternoon, "I mean there and active search that's going on now to find out if there are spaces available for them."

Up on Brooklyn Tech's 7th floor, rows of blue cots lined the lunchroom and dozens of frail evacuees tried to make themselves comfortable. One man called for medication. In a wheel chair, Alicia Brown said she wasn't mad that no one evacuated her from Lawrence Nursing Care Center in Far Rockaway before the storm.

"How could they do that?" she asked. "Who wants to be out there in the middle of the storm? I didn't!"

Brown's legs were both amputated above the knee because of sugar, she said. Diabetes. Attending to her and others in the cafeteria were a combination of city staff, aid workers, volunteers and employees of the nursing homes the evacuees came from.

But, after emerging from Brooklyn Tech's staff meeting, U.S. History teacher Adam Stevens said he was as concerned about how evacuees were faring as he was about students coming back to share space with them.

"There just doesn’t seem to be the staff on hand to really take care of them and what they need," he said.

Adams had gone up to the college office on the 7th floor to print out a transcript for a student’s early admission application and found, on the floor in the hallway, evidence that nursing home evacuees weren’t making it all the way to the bathroom from the cafeteria

"They’re unable to contain their waste," he said, "I’m not sure they have bathroom facilities to properly care for them."

Social studies teacher Avery was pessimistic about the return to school next week. “The principal really seemed to be at a loss for words to describe how this would work Monday," he said, "I don’t think there’s anybody in the building who thinks school and the facility can operate together."

Brooklyn Tech’s Senior Class President, Ahmed Abdelqader, also came by to check out the scene. He said his classmates have been talking on social media about the shelter — with mixed reactions.

He said some students said they didn't feel comfortable. "But really school can’t be closed for any more,” he said. "Losing out on one week is almost horrific. We have to catch up on a lot of our classes. You gotta do what you gotta do."

Come Monday, Homeless Services Commissioner Diamond says students, teachers, evacuees and emergency aid workers will share the building.

"We have enough staff on site — or we will on Monday when school starts — that we are confident we can coexist with the schools without interfering," he said.

Then on Tuesday, voters will get into the mix. Brooklyn Tech is also a polling site for the presidential election.


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Comments [7]


As a civil service employee and having worked all of last wee with the Chai and Lawrence residents they are not receiving the care disaster victims should receive. These residents are being fed school lunch; which in turn is causing upset stomaches and when mixed with their medications which increases the chances of accidents. Lets not forget these are displaced human beings who need our help. I have witnessed first hand on how the city employees just sat around the cafetaria and did nothing to help. A large number of city employees were assigned to the lunch room and refused to help with any other assignments. It was very disheartening to witness how lazy and unprofessional city employees exist in New York.

Nov. 05 2012 02:44 PM
Alexandra F. from Brooklyn

My name is Alexandra and I have been one of the volunteer site managers for the BK Tech emergency shelter all week. My promotion to Site Manager was serendipitous and accidental but I embraced the request to run a shelter for special needs evacuees as I have some experience in related fields from my professional life. We had been doing what I think was an admirable job all week, making sure adult mental patients, elderly residents with serious medical issues and homeless individuals from Zone A in Coney Island, Far Rockaway, Canarsie, and other locations were safe and sound in our shelter. Red Cross and FEMA were no where to be seen and not on site until yesterday late afternoon when a team of 4 Red Cross showed up. OEM staff were only on site during normal working hours and left patient management and overnight shifts to be managed entirely by concerned volunteer neighbors like myself. I have been moved all week long by volunteer turn-out and willingness to take on jobs and duties far outside of our comfort zone and ability and disappointed in the attention given to us by OEM, FEMA and any city or federal officials with the exception of DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Team) who came on site early last week and have been doing an amazing job taking care of all medical cases. DMAT is really an incredible organization of professional, caring, dedicated individuals who deserve much more recognition than they get. I should also give special thank yous to ATF and the FBI for being on site all week with teams in place to provide protection for DMAT (since it's a federal operation) and who kept all residents and volunteers safe.

I, personally, feel there are an important stories to tell from what I witnessed this past week in the BK Tech Shelter. Some things were wonderful and positive and other things were incredibly disturbing and frustratin; bureaucracy and slow responses from several federal and city agencies (Red Cross, OEM) being one of the most disappointing aspects. The BK Tech shelter is one of the largest in the city. The residents and patients we have been caring for all week are among the neediest of all evacuees. These are individuals with serious developmental, mental and physical needs.While I am saddened by some events and concerned about the well-being of the patients and ensuring they are safely and appropriately transitioned to more stable and long-term care facilities, I am overwhelmed by the response of volunteers from Brooklyn and elsewhere to come support our elderly, homeless and special needs neighbors. This week has restored my faith in the resiliency and love of New Yorkers.

Nov. 05 2012 01:53 PM
yomams from queens

Looking outside the window, she said she saw water that was waste high.

should be "Waist high"

Nov. 03 2012 06:48 PM
Adam Stevens from Brooklyn

One really important thing I didn't note in the interview with Ms. McCune:
The DC 37 workers I met who reported to Brooklyn Tech were great. The ones I met had the job of keeping an eye on things and making sure the evacuees from the nursing home in the Rockaways where they had been apparently abandoned stayed in the parts of the building that were (inadequately) set up to care for them.

Me, my union chapter leader and some other teachers talked with these workers for a while and found out that they were from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Since Tuesday they have not been allowed to call in sick, absences have come straight off vacation, no allowances for travel, child/elder care hardship, nothing. These were black and Hispanic workers.

The UFT does not fit that description and to date we have not been subjected to such coercive measures. Just another example of how mayoral policy plays our "union of professionals" off against the bulk of the working class in this city.

Meanwhile the city will be coming for our sick days next week. It's an old story - racist attacks on one group of workers is a prelude to a broader attack on all.

In a quiet hallway both UFT and DC 37 workers agreed the disparate work rules we stumbled across in talking with each other were racist. One of the DC 37 workers went out of his way to express his appreciation that we teachers recognized the situation as such.

I regret not thinking to tell this part of the story to Ms. McCune. It merits follow up in my view.

One thing I did mention that didn't make it into the story is that the custodial staff in the building is doing an amazing job and I want to make sure that comes across, even if it is just in the comments segment.

Our students who show up Monday are going to learn a lot. And none of the choices on Tuesday represent a vote against the kind of persistent, infuriating and really quite run of the mill racism my co-workers and I got a reminder of at work on Friday.

Nov. 03 2012 05:48 PM
Herb Michael from Harlem NY

I want to thank Mr. Stevens, the student you interviewed and Mr. Avery for showing compassion to the evacuees. I am retired from teaching now, but my Degree is Environmental Health Science. For the past 25 years, climatologists have argued NYC was overdue for a storm and storm surge of this magnitude. Global warming only increases the likelihood storms like this will occur more frequently and with greater intensity.

Yet after 25 years of conferences, studies and recommendations for pro-active government responses, really, the political class. Republicans and Democrats have done virtually nothing.

Prima Facie evidence, the new South Ferry Station, the one salt water poured into until it was lapping up to the top steps I like the entrance way to Davey Jones locker. If any station in NYC should have been built to flood resistance it is this one. Nor should the Mayor who wraps himself in the mantle of environmentalist be spared.

Look, storms are natural disasters, sure. But the tragic losses of the past week, in lives and properties are man made. Like the leaders of a developing country wallowing in indifference and indecision the political leaders in our Industrial and Financial Capitalist state wasted 25 years of warnings and solutions provided by Engineers, Scientists and activists doing nothing. Time for the press to stop giving hero awards to politicians like the Mayor and Governor and celebrate first responders and people like the teacher volunteers, nurses and others who manned the evacuation centers.

On a personal note, my partner put in over 70 hours as a nurse this week at Wadleigh high school. The working class came through in this crisis, they deserve better leadership and more power to handle the next crisis.

Nov. 03 2012 12:39 PM
btech student from Brooklyn

That's really disgusting and disturbing. I mean, Tech has always been pretty nasty, but now we have human waste everywhere? At least keep it in the stairways.

Yet another reason to never buy school lunch.

Nov. 03 2012 11:59 AM
Aaron Showalter from Brooklyn

Good story.

Nov. 03 2012 10:50 AM

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