After 4.8 earthquake shakes New York, schools continue operations as normal

A cityscape is seen in the background with a river and some birds along the shore in the foreground.
A 4.8 earthquake with an epicenter in New Jersey rattled New York Friday morning, but schools carried on as usual and reported no damage. (Gary Hershorn / Getty Images)

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New York City schools were sent reeling Friday morning as a 4.8 magnitude earthquake reverberated through the city and other parts of the region.

As of around 12 p.m., no injuries had been reported in the city’s schools, and officials had received no indication that any school buildings were compromised, according to the city’s Education Department.

Schools across the city were continuing operations as normal following the 10:23 a.m. incident, officials said.

Many schools sent messages to families Friday morning, assuring them that students remained safe. At some schools, recess was moved inside, as a city emergency alert advised residents to remain indoors. (A later alert warned aftershocks may be felt, but said New Yorkers could continue usual activities.)

At a press conference with other city agencies, schools Chancellor David Banks said he was attending an event at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts when the earthquake struck.

“We’ve instructed all of our school principals to continue operations and dismissal as normal,” Banks said. “We ask the schools, staff, and families to remain calm and to model that for all of our students, all of our children.”

Parents do not need to pick up their child early, and after school programming will continue as normal, he added.

Education Department officials noted building response teams were assembled shortly after the earthquake “out of an abundance of caution,” and that the department had been in close collaboration with other city agencies to ensure student safety. Schools would communicate with families if any conditions were to change, officials added.

Classes briefly disrupted across the city

In the immediate aftermath, some schools, students, and educators were left rattled by the earthquake.

“Kids are freaked, staff is freaked,” said Kiri Soares, principal of the Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women in Brooklyn. “We’re sending out messages to families, staff, and kids to check in with them and reassure that we are stable and physically OK.”

But Soares said the school remains “mentally stressed from all the disruption,” adding a broken pipe that occurred prior to the earthquake had flooded several classrooms, ramping up the chaos.

Anna Nelson, an assistant principal at Bronx Latin, said she was in a ninth grade algebra class when the desks started shaking. The school uses Yondr pouches to lock up cell phones during the school day, but Nelson said they let students un-pouch their phones after the earthquake to text their families and let them know they were safe.

The school notified parents that recess and lunch had been moved indoors, but that otherwise school operations were continuing as normal. Though classes were disrupted for about 15 minutes, Nelson said students quickly regained focus.

Still, she added, there was little immediate communication from the city’s Education Department in the aftermath of the earthquake. And while her school remained indoors, a neighboring school evacuated their building, according to Nelson.

“I think there was just a wide variety of directives happening across schools,” she said. “A very quick message to everyone and all schools — like key stakeholders — would be really helpful.”

Around 12 p.m., the city’s Education Department sent a text notification to parents, assuring them students remained safe and that school dismissal would proceed as normal.

The earthquake was felt across parts of the East Coast Friday, with its epicenter just north of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In Philadelphia, for example, schools were continuing operations as usual, with no reported injuries or building damage, said Monique Braxton, spokesperson for the Philadelphia School District.

Alex Zimmerman and Carly Sitrin contributed reporting.

Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering New York City. Contact him at jshen-berro@chalkbeat.org.

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