The Leonia High School community celebrates a return to some semblance of normalcy as the entire student body is back for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic sent them home in March 2020. This homecoming arrives despite damage caused by Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in New Jersey in early September 2021 and resulted in flooding and water damage to the first floor of the high school one week before the first day of school.
The water was aided in its path of destruction by gravity as it ran downhill from Broad Avenue, damaging the main office, nurse’s office, art and science rooms, and gym (amongst others). Many teachers, administrators, and other members of the school community were forced to make hasty adjustments to their plans for the upcoming school year, including relocating to any available space on the second floor, sharing classrooms, and conducting classes in the cafeteria, Little Theater, or library.
Physical education classes took a big hit: not only do the floorboards in the gym need to be replaced to prevent mold, but the exterior turf field has only recently returned to use. Gym classes are currently taking place in Overpeck Park with plans to bus students to the Leonia Recreation Center in the event of rain.
Though the community has faced these challenges tenaciously, it’s not been an easy transition, especially considering the ongoing pandemic and the closer quarters damage has put people in. Students in particular may have had difficulty adjusting to the last-minute changes. One Leonia High School Senior, Ruben Soh, expressed concern over the current situation. While he already had trepidations about returning to in-person instruction, he expressed additional concerns about COVID exposure and called the whole situation “exhausting”.
Another student, Lilian DeFilippis, had similar sentiments, expressing sadness over not being able to use the turf field behind the school for extracurricular activities: “I know a kid who got hurt using a substitute field in the meantime. It makes me sad. It’s my Senior year. It saddened me to think I couldn’t use this field again.” While it’s impossible to say whether the injured student in question would have gotten hurt playing on the LHS field, it’s interesting to consider how the flooding has impacted student health and well-being beyond possible increased virus exposure.
But students aren’t the only members of the school community with opinions on the school reopening. According to one senior’s parent: “It’s good for your [the students’] character. If you’re smart and you’re vaccinated…[the risk of exposure is minimal]”. It’s fair to say that attitudes on the issue vary.
In an article published on northjersey.com, Superintendent Edward Bertolini is quoted as saying that it’s only in the last three years (since 2018) that the Leonia High School building has reported flooding (Kristie Cattafi). It’s understandable then that tropical storms and flooding have not been at the forefront of administrators’ minds–unlike winter storms and snow accumulation–until recently.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred an educational adjustment period, it’s reasonable to assume new inclement weather conditions, which many theorize may be due to climate change, will require a similar period of adjustment. Perhaps in a few years, in addition to the obligatory snow and professional days students cheer about, days off due to tropical storms will become an expected part of the school year as climate change goes from knocking at our front door to gushing inside.