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New York

Rockaway families say they're worried air isn't safe for students

Debris and packed sand fills a street near the the beach in Belle Harbor a week after the storm hit. Three weeks after the storm, concerns are setting in about how poor air quality could affect students. Parents at schools just beginning to recover from Hurricane Sandy are concerned that worsening air quality on the Rockaway peninsula could pose a health concern for students who return. At a meeting Monday night for families in District 27, which includes many hard-hit neighborhoods, a parent leader said children at her newly reopened school arrived with masks to protect them from pollution caused by the storm. The parent leader, Alexandra Siler, said she sent her daughter to P.S. 317 with a protective mask on Monday, the school's first day back after two weeks in a temporary location, even before two students there experienced respiratory distress after coming in from recess. One P.S. 317 student was hospitalized Monday, a Department of Education spokeswoman said. Siler said the school also called an ambulance for a second child but that a parent arrived to pick the student up first. The hospitalized child, who Siler said was in pre-kindergarten, is feeling better and is now in stable condition, according to the department spokeswoman. Propelled by $200 million in emergency funding, the department has reopened 20 severely damaged schools on the Rockaway peninsula in the past week. The rapid restoration has meant that thousands of students no longer have to travel long distances to get to cramped temporary sites that sometimes lacked even basic classroom resources. But it also means that students are returning to school buildings that are surrounded by blocks of waste and sandy debris.
New York

Sensing new political possibility, parent leaders prep campaigns

Parent leaders, from left: Sam Pirozzolo, Jesse Mojica, of the DOE; Juan Pagan, Noah Gotbaum, and Ocynthia Williams (Credits: samforassembly.com; Facebook) A handful of parent leaders are exploring their political viability for the upcoming election cycles, hoping to tap into a growing dissatisfaction with the city's handling of the school system. Previously, the parents have held seats on their school's parent-teacher association or served top posts on their district's Community Education Councils. Some are seasoned organizers and have family histories steeped in New York City politics. Still others are looking beyond the five boroughs as a way to influence education policy. Two have declared for State Assembly races this fall, but most at the city level have yet to open campaign chests or secure any key endorsements. Few have connections to the political organizations that frequently power candidates into office. But they are testing the waters and, in interviews, they share a common gripe when speaking about their pursuit of a higher office. "We've been completely marginalized by the current administration," said Noah Gotbaum, who said he is considering a run in the already crowded race for public advocate, a position his stepmother, Betsy Gotbaum, occupied from 2001 to 2009. (His father, Victor Gotbaum, headed DC-37, one of the city's largest unions, for two decades until 1987.) "The DOE flat out ignores parents across the board," said Sam Pirozzolo, a parent council president from Staten Island who is actively campaigning for State Assembly this year. It's just one part of a larger, if uncoordinated, organizing effort by groups seeking greater influence over policy decisions once Mayor Bloomberg departs after 12 years in office. Last week, a coalition of unions and advocacy groups announced it would work to galvanize opposition to Bloomberg's least popular policies, which include closing troubled schools and expanding the number of charter schools, in the mayoral race.