11 days late, New York opening schools at last But asbestos work still keeps 43 shut

NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- Only hours before today's school opening, officials were trying to find classrooms for students displaced by an asbestos crisis.

At least 43 schools were closed.


"With all the moving around of students, there won't be a lot of teaching going on," said a middle school teacher from Queens.

Schools Chancellor Ramon Cortines pleaded yesterday for the city to "pull together" for a school opening certain to be fraught with problems.


"There is going to be some confusion, but we need to get schools started, and we have to focus on the hundreds of thousands that are going to be OK," he said yesterday.

But parents, who know well the turmoil that can occur even during an ordinary first day of school, were concerned about the kind of schooling their youngsters would get in such chaotic conditions.

A Brooklyn school board, fearing that youngsters may still be exposed to asbestos hazards, voted last night not to open any schools today.

District 19 School Board member Undean Ford said parents in the East New York district do not feel reassured that schools are safe because they have seen none of the asbestos test results.

"We are not sending our children until we're sure each school is free of asbestos," she said.

Lilly Lopez, a Brooklyn parent from District 15 and member of Parents Coalition for Education, still was not sure yesterday whether she should send her three children to school.

If they do go, she said, she will accompany the two youngest.

"If I think it looks OK, I'll leave my kid," she said. "If there's too much craziness, I'll take them to work with me."


District 30 in Queens also had threatened to defy the Board of Education and keep schools closed.

The start of classes was postponed for 11 days to give officials extra time to reinspect buildings for asbestos damage after it was learned six weeks ago that initial inspections had been botched.

As of last night, the official Board of Education list of closed schools included 42 elementary, middle and junior high schools, one high school, and 13 special education programs.

Officials estimate that some schools could stay closed for up to six weeks.

In many of the buildings that will open, some rooms and hallways will be sealed and students will attend classes at alternate sites.

Some students will double up with other classes or be taught in gyms and auditoriums.


Some students will have shortened schedules and will attend classes until 5 p.m.