11/06/2012 11:26 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Pennsylvania Schools Shut By Superstorm Sandy Returning To Normalcy

Aliya Johnson loves her school.

She told her mom that on Monday morning when she saw Lincoln Elementary for the first time in over a week.

Lest her devotion be doubted, Aliya carried proof in her tiny hands as she stood in the playground of the Bethlehem school.

"They are fake flowers," said the 6-year-old kindergartner, holding a square vase. "I'm going to give them to my teacher."

A few minutes later, the orange and red flowers were on teacher Traci Millheim's desk.

"Wasn't that sweet," Millheim said.

It was a joyous reunion between a child and her teacher who hadn't seen each other since Oct. 26.

That was three days before Hurricane Sandy mixed with two other weather systems to create a superstorm that killed an estimated 111, decimated New Jersey and New York coastal communities, buried parts of West Virginia and Maryland under snow, and knocked out power to homes, businesses and schools in eastern Pennsylvania for much of last week.

"It's been a full week, and I think they are pretty excited to be back," said Lincoln Principal Benita Draper, who got power restored to her Bethlehem home Saturday. "I certainly am."

Some school districts got back to business earlier than others as power companies worked around the clock to restore lights.

Catasauqua Area School District was one of the first districts to resume, holding classes on Thursday. By Friday, Parkland and East Penn school districts had restarted, too.

But Bethlehem Area, Allentown, Easton Area and other school districts remained closed until Monday.

That means those districts are already close to or over the weather-emergency days they built into their calendars.

Under state law, students must have a minimum of 180 instruction days. The state Department of Education is still compiling information on the number of schools that had to close because of Sandy, said department spokesman Tim Eller. He said it's too early in the school year to consider waiving the minimum instructional requirement.

"Schools should plan to complete 180 days by June 30, 2013," Eller said.

Taking no chances that winter will bring more missed days, some districts have already rejiggered their calendars.

Allentown has scheduled make-up days for Feb. 15, March 28 and April 1, according to the district calendar.

Parkland School District students were supposed to have off on Election Day, but will be in class instead. They'll also have a shorter President's Day weekend with Feb. 15 no longer a day off, according to the district's website.

Bethlehem hasn't set anything in stone, but is looking at bringing students in on Feb. 18, March 28, April 1 and June 6. Extra days would be tacked on after June 6 if needed.

An Internet hacker didn't think five days off was enough in Bethlehem Area. The hacker created a fake Twitter account using Superintendent Joseph Roy's likeness and name.

The fake account, @BASD_SUPT, was replete with misspellings and claimed schools would be closed on Monday. It drew the attention of students, staff and Bethlehem police.

Roy, who uses the Twitter handle @BASDSUPT, said he reported the fake account to Twitter and its creation was traced to a student.

Even though the student created the account from home, Roy said, the student could face school discipline because it created a disturbance or had the potential to create a disturbance in the school setting.

Roy said he was not sure if Bethlehem police would charge the student with criminal offenses as Police Commissioner Jason Schiffer had threatened in a public a tweet.

Schiffer said the matter is still under investigation and no charges have been filed.

East Penn Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger hasn't mapped out make-up days. At this point, he said he's worried more about lost instruction time.

East Penn was among several area districts that started the school year before Labor Day for the first time this school year. The move was done in part as a cushion for weather-related days off, but also to give students more time to prepare to take the new Keystone Exams in December and in the spring.

"We were in good routine and teachers and students were well into the daily flow of instruction, assignments, work," Seidenberger said. "So to lose some momentum was a bit disappointing."

Back at Lincoln, there was still evidence of Sandy's destruction. Across the street from the school, a house's roof was draped in a blue tarp and the culprit, a large tree branch, sawed into a pile.

Inside Lori Rusack's kindergarten class, normalcy began with lunch menus, Pledge of Allegiance, introduction of new month, November, and singing the ABCs to the beat of Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out."

"Good job, guys," Rusack said when they finished the song. "You didn't forget anything."

Morning Call reporter Patrick Lester contributed to this report.

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