Almost every school in the state will be up and running Monday, but not all of their students will be there.
Area school district officials have been working all week to track down and identify students displaced by Sandy to assure that they begin attending school somewhere as quickly as possible.
Under federal and state regulations, homeless students can be bused back to their home schools from out of the district or they can attend school in the district where they are currently living.
Wildwood School Superintendent Dennis Anderson said his staff visited all five motels where families from as far away as Toms River and Seaside Heights have been living and expect at least five students to start attending Wildwood schools next week.
“We will do everything we can to make them comfortable and welcome,” he said.
He said a number of other families hope to return to their homes this weekend, so they have postponed committing to another school, a problem if their return is delayed.
“All of them just really want to get back home,” he said. “But we don’t want the children out of school for too long.”
A major concern is whether those homes are habitable, or if temporarily displaced families could become homeless.
The state Department of Education has been working with district officials and students can be transferred electronically through the NJSMART student database system. All displaced students are automatically eligible for free school meals.
Another concern is educating students who attend schools that were damaged and are still not ready to open.
According to department figures, 92 percent of all school districts, and 89 percent of all schools will be ready for students Monday. Among those still undetermined is Long Beach Island Consolidated. The school board there met Thursday but has not yet announced a final plan. The island was cleared to have residents return Saturday. If the schools cannot open, a backup plan has been set up to have students attend school in Stafford Township.
Districts hard-hit by the storm have posted notices on their websites and sent global robo-calls and emails asking displaced families to notify them of their current addresses so they can arrange transportation to school. Most southern Ocean County districts were closed all week, but had staff working to track students and offer assistance.
Atlantic City school principals said they have been able to locate almost all of their families working through phones, friends and family members. The district also had a bus stopping at the Atlantic City Convention Center all week to pick up students sheltered there.
Sovereign Avenue School Principal Medina Peyton said they have five families they have been unable to locate, two students who did transfer out, and a couple who are living with family on the mainland but getting brought into the city for school.
“They were very worried that they would not be able to come back here to school,” she said.
Richmond Avenue School Vice Principal Shelly Williams said staff there has even been going to the homes to track down missing students and most are accounted for even if they are not in the district.
“We’ve asked all the teachers to be observant of who has not come back,” she said. “We are a family-oriented school and families do reach out to us when they need help.”
Technically, under state regulations, districts that take in homeless or displaced students can charge the cost of educating them back to the hometown district. Anderson said right now they are just concerned with getting children in school.
“This really is like nothing we have ever experienced,” he said.
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