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Thousands of New York City students won't return to class for days

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By Helyn Trickey
CNN

(CNN) – Schoolhouse doors below Canal Street in New York City remain closed Friday as 15,000 students remain out of school following Tuesday’s attack on the World Trade Center.

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"We’ve never had an incident like this," says Karen Finney, director of communications at the New York City School Board. "At this point, we are trying to assess when we can re-open the remaining schools."

Twenty-six schools are closed citywide and Finney estimates it may be the middle of next week before the halls are once again filled with the sounds of slamming lockers and rowdy voices.

Two schools may not open again this year, she says.

"We have environmental concerns," says Finney. "All that silt compiled with rain … we are concerned about roof damage, and the other issue is the structural safety of the buildings."

Because parts of the city remain closed to anyone but emergency personnel it is impossible to inspect the schools in the immediate area of the blasts.

Finney estimates that most of the displaced students will be back at their desks by the middle of next week. Other students, she says, may have to be re-assigned to another school or moved to a new facility altogether.

Frank conversations

While officials puzzle over which schools are strong enough to open next week, most teachers got back to the business Thursday of teaching, or at least listening.

"Some teachers let their classes just be an open conversation," says Finney. Many teachers are urging children to talk or write about their feelings in journals. Many of the younger children are drawing pictures.

"In one class the chancellor walked into the classroom and the kids themselves had decided to write letters to police and firemen and hand deliver them. The physical act of writing and delivering was comforting to them," Finney says.

In a city where every ethnic and religious minority is represented in the classroom, tensions can run high in the face of this emotionally charged disaster.

According to Finney, one teacher turned an altercation between two Muslim students into a frank discussion the whole class could learn from.

"Apparently one Muslim student was expressing embarrassment over the tragedy and another Muslim student was saying that they shouldn’t discuss it in front of non-Muslims (students)," Finney says.

The teacher was able to stop the students’ fight and turn their feelings into a class-wide discussion about how easy it is to blame the wrong people out of anger.

"I think, as with everyone, this is going to be day by day," says Finney. "We may discover (in our classrooms) children that have lost parents or teachers who have lost loved ones."




RELATED STORIES:
Most New York City schools open doors, begin healing
September 13, 2001
Talk about it, counselors advise
September 11, 2001
Schools struggle to help students understand terrorist attacks
September 12, 2001

RELATED SITES:
The New York City Board of Education
KidsHealth.org: Helping Your Child Deal With the Terrorist Tragedy
MSU: Helping Children Cope with Disasters/Trauma
Education Week: Schools and Crisis
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Helping Children After a Disaster

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