Many principals across New York City rushed students to upper floors at their schools, as classrooms, gyms, kitchens and common areas on lower levels flooded.
As heavy rain and dangerous flooding pummeled the region on Friday, hundreds of thousands of students in the city’s school system, the nation’s largest, found their days drastically disrupted by the storm, and some families questioned why schools had remained open in the first place.
At least one school in Brooklyn was forced to evacuate students for rain-related problems. At a small handful of other individual schools and day care sites, staff members asked families to pick up their children as soon as possible, which school officials later said was “precisely the wrong thing to do.”
On social media, teachers reported that scores of children were spending the day soaking wet, as ceilings leaked from the rainwater and bathroom toilets backed up.
“Truthfully, holding school today knowing this was coming feels irresponsible,” said Jessamyn Lee, a Brooklyn parent of two, who added that while she understands that closing schools can be a challenging decision, the system appeared to be unprepared.
One of her children’s schools — Public School 84 Jose de Diego, in Williamsburg — reported flooding throughout the ground floor, including in the cafeteria and school kitchen. “Our kids are right now trapped at school, and some of them are trapped in buildings that are flooding,” said Ms. Lee, who is also a member of the Panel for Education Policy, the city school system’s governing body.
In a news conference on Friday, Mayor Eric Adams and the schools chancellor, David C. Banks, defended the city’s decision to keep schools open on Friday, adding that closing them would have been a “major, major disruption” for working families.
As of 12:15 p.m., about 150 school buildings had reported flooding, the chancellor said, while at least one Brooklyn school was required to evacuate to another nearby school because of a “smoking boiler.”
Still, Mr. Banks said, “nothing has impacted the ability for us to safely educate our students in any of those schools.”
Nathaniel Styer, an Education Department spokesman, said that “every one of our schools have safety plans in place, and are trained annually to prepare for days like today.”
More than 105 school buses had reported delays on Friday morning resulting from weather conditions, affecting nearly 250 schools. Those affected were predominately children with disabilities. Scores of other students faced disrupted travel, as service was delayed or suspended on several subway lines and traffic slowed on city streets.
Matthew Weeks, a parent in Downtown Brooklyn, said that he and his 3-year-old daughter had been stuck on a G train for more than two hours as they traveled to her Montessori preschool on Friday morning.
His daughter was “squirming around and crying,” he said, while the only announcements he heard had come from “a guy in a jovial, joking voice saying that none of the trains are moving.”
Eventually frustration grew, and several passengers began smoking cigarettes and cannabis between subway cars. At one point, a small group left the train to walk through the tunnel, Mr. Weeks said, including a teenage girl who seemed to be traveling to school.
“They did nothing to prepare, and didn’t manage it effectively,” he said of city and transit officials.
Even for the many students who successfully made it to school, the day felt anything but normal. Maude Stevens, a sophomore at Bard High School Early College on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, summed up her morning in two words: “Wet and miserable.”
When Maude, 15, and her friends arrived in the morning, teachers corralled them into an auditorium, later telling students that the school’s “entire first floor was flooded.” In her first period class, her teacher arrived 30 minutes late. By 11 a.m., she said, her classes were still missing 10 to 15 students.
At one point, a few students huddled in a bathroom to figure out how much an Uber might cost after afternoon dismissal. The prices were “upward of $200 to go two miles,” she said.
“I honestly have no idea how I’m getting home,” she said.