Wednesday was supposed to be a “return to normalcy,” as Fort Lee’s Superintendent of Schools called it, for students in the district after seven days away from their classrooms, classmates, lessons and teachers.
The devastation and widespread power outages, downed trees and wires in the borough Hurricane Sandy left in its wake had prevented schools from opening all of last week, in addition to this Monday. Then came Tuesday, which was Election Day.
But Wednesday didn’t quite work out to be a “normal” school day for Fort Lee students on their first day back.
“We did have quite an eventful day with power going in and out in multiple schools all day,” said Superintendent Steven Engravalle.
At about 12:45 p.m., Fort Lee School No. 3 went down, he said, and power wasn’t restored until shortly after 2 p.m.
Fort Lee fire official Steve Curry and Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Jack Denichilo rushed to the school immediately.
“We had fire officials there so that we didn’t have an issue with no fire alarms,” Engravalle said. “PSE&G responded right away, and they were able to get us up and running pretty quickly.”
Engravalle added that the children and staff remained safe throughout the outage and were able to make it through the school day.
“The building was still warm, and it was light out,” he said. “We have windows in every classroom so that wasn’t an issue. The worst thing you can ever do is send kids home during the day ... because it is so difficult for parents and so disruptive, so we were doing everything we could do to stay open.”
Then, shortly after power came back on, Fort Lee High School and the district’s central offices lost power. But Engravalle said that wasn’t a major problem because school officials had already called off all afterschool activities due to the weather, including a state volleyball match and all clubs and sports.
The only thing they didn’t call off was the afterschool program.
“It’s difficult to call off latchkey and have parents come pick up their kids prior to their scheduled time,” Engravalle said. “Some parents don’t get here until 6 p.m.”
Then came a call from Stephen Ferraro of the Fort Lee Office of Emergency Management (OEM) at about 5 p.m. Power at Fort Lee School No. 1 had gone down on the Whiteman Street side where the central offices used to be, and it hadn’t come back on yet.
Still, Engravalle remained confident power would be restored and school would be in session again Thursday.
“We hope to be opening, and hope to have everything back in order,” he said. “We made it through today, and we’re going to try and do the same thing tomorrow.”
He added that as of about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday “all systems are go” for Thursday.
“But again, anything can happen because as you saw, today was a rollercoaster,” Engravalle said. “It wasn’t one particular building going in and out; it was one, then another, then another.”
Refer to the Fort Lee Public School District’s website for further information.
Patch will also provide updates if more information becomes available.