The old story “When I was your age, I had to walk two miles to school uphill in the bitter cold,” has unfortunately become a reality for some parents and pre-schoolers in Hoboken. T.G. Connors School was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. The school suffered the loss of their cafeteria and their entire basement, which houses the HOPES preschool program, a state-funded program.
Three months after the storm, the 3- and 4-year-olds who were attending pre-school at Connors on Second and Monroe streets are being taught in the Brandt School, 215 Ninth St. Parents of these children feel they have been ill-informed of the progress being made on Connors’ basement and have been asking for a bus since December.
The long walk
Adrienne Rawlins lives on the 400 block of Marshall Drive, just a few blocks from Connors. In the morning, she must walk her 6-year-old daughter to Connors School, with her 3-year-old daughter in tow. Then Rawlins walks 16 additional blocks to get her 3-year-old to Brandt School. She has been doing this walk for over two months. Last week’s cold temperatures didn’t make the walk any easier.
In addition, Rawlins suffers from asthma and arthritis.
“I had trouble walking them two blocks, let alone now. [My daughter] will say ‘I’m tired’ after just two blocks,” said Rawlins.
A neighboring parent, Theresa Mongon, does this same walk. However, Mongon has four children to walk with, a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old, and a newborn. She used to drop her 6 and 3-year-olds off at Connors, which was only two blocks away. Now Mongon drops her 6-year-old off then pushes a double stroller the mile uptown to get her 3-year-old to Brandt, all the while carting her 1-year-old and newborn.
“I was told by the administration that the only way to get a bus was if there was a medical condition.” – Adrienne Rawlins
“I need to walk in, sign in in the lobby, and then sign my daughter out upstairs,” said Rawlins.
Concerned parent Nathan Brinkman recently raised the issue at a Board of Education meeting. Brinkman lives even further away from Brandt School than Rawlins and Mongon.
Brinkman’s biggest concern at this point is transparency.
“It is somewhat of a hardship for these parents, especially the parents of little ones,” Brinkman said Thursday. “I expressed my hope that pre-K would be restored to Connors or some other downtown location, but my biggest concern is communication. We were told it would be weeks, not months, and to my knowledge there has not even been a letter sent as to whether returning to Connors is even realistic.”
Brinkman said he would like to plan accordingly if the displaced kids cannot return to Connors.
Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti has also gotten involved in the matter and attended the most recent school board meeting.
What about a bus?
Rawlins said Thursday that Occhipinti and Assemblyman Ruben Ramos Jr. both got involved when Rawlins was told that bus transportation could only be provided if there was a medical need.
“We were never given a definite timetable, but the family advocates said they were hoping it’d be a short time,” Rawlins said of the process to fix Connors. “Then parents started asking about a bus.”
Rawlins said she emailed the state and they told her over the phone that the district is not under an obligation to provide a bus, but they could provide one as a courtesy.
Rawlins also said HOPES administrators and teachers are being unfairly blamed.
“It wasn’t their fault. And it wasn’t anyone at Connors,” she said adding that Connors Principal Gerald Fitzhugh is an asset to the school. “Mr. Fitzhugh is like having a best friend. He is so straightforward and so nice.”
Rawlins has since sent emails requesting bus service to Board of Education members, Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback, local City Council members, and other local politicians.
Rawlins received a letter from the deputy chief of staff for Assemblyman Ruben Ramos Jr. that said: “Assemblyman Ramos has been working on this issue for weeks, with minimal response from state or local officials. In November, we sent a letter to Superintendent Toback asking him to consider providing buses for displaced students, and a letter to the SDA [state School Development Authority] urging them to hurry up on making repairs to the school. In December, Councilman Occhipinti and Assemblyman Ramos sent out a joint press release discussing the problem and trying to rally support for the issue. Unfortunately, this release was put out on the morning of the school shooting in Connecticut. The basic response to our repeated inquiries has been, ‘We’re working on it.’ We will continue to reach out to these officials to encourage them to find a solution to this troublesome problem.”
Rawlins also received correspondence from the director of early childhood, Adriana Coppola, answering her concerns on Jan. 14. The letter said, “Sometimes when construction is done, more issues arise. The fact that Emily has a school to go to is wonderful. I understand it may be a longer walk for you and other preschool families but Brandt is the available location and since there was room in the building, it was a terrific solution to have our preschool children in school rather than waiting.”
She added, “As per the bus, only those with medical conditions and with medical documentations from a current physician may be able to have the school bus coordinate pick up and drop off. I was informed that HOPES had placed a posting for a bus driver but without luck. I understand they are still searching.”
Superintendent Toback did not return a request for comment by phone and email.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.