Life seemed to return to normal for the students at IS 238 in Hollis Tuesday, but the adolescents said the mood at the middle school would never be the same.
It was the first school day held since longtime teacher and Assistant Principal Mitchell Wiener died from the swine flu, and students like Laquisha Pilgrim said his absence would be felt immediately.
“It feels different because he always said these corny jokes over the PA,” the 13−year−old eighth−grader said. “Before we didn’t appreciate it, but now we’ll miss it.”
Wiener — whose wife Bonnie and eldest son, Adam, also teach at IS 238 — had been at the school for 21 years, starting out as a math teacher and working his way up to assistant principal.
Students said Wiener was the type of instructor they could turn to for both academic and personal help.
“Whenever I needed help, I’d talk to him because he wouldn’t tell anyone’s secrets,” said sixth−grader Emanni Harris, 12.
Parents also expressed their sorrow over the loss of the assistant principal. Brenda Bennett, the mother of an eighth−grader, said she was close with Wiener because he opened his door and kept open communications with parents.
“Graduation won’t be the same without Mr. Wiener,” she said.
IS 238 was one of 16 Queens public schools that reopened Tuesday morning after a large number of students reported having flu like symptoms. City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein personally welcomed back the elementary school students at PS 19 in Corona during its reopening Tuesday morning.
The Tuesday reopenings came two days after the city announced a second Queens resident had died from the disease. Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the unidentified 50−year−old victim’s family wanted privacy, he revealed Monday that the victim had a pre−existing health condition and did not work at a city school.
On Tuesday, Thomas Friedman, the commissioner for the city’s Department of Health, announced that an unidentified 41−year−old Queens woman and an unidentified 34−year−old Brooklyn man also had died from the disease also known as the H1N1 virus. The commissioner also announced that a St. Albans special education school, PS 811, would shut its doors until next Monday after six students came down with flu−like symptoms.
The number of people visiting city emergency rooms with flu symptoms increased dramatically with some hospitals experiencing 2,000 visits a day over the last month compared with an average of 200 visits a day before the outbreak, according to the commissioner. Friedman advised the public not to let the media attention cause them to panic because he said only one out of 50 of patients who have visited the ERs were admitted to a hospital.
Five Queens schools that were closed because of a large cluster of students with flu symptoms were set to open Wednesday and two Maspeth schools, PS 9 and PS 58, were expected to reopen Thursday, according to the city Department of Education.
Rhea Kendall, the mother of an IS 238 eighth−grader, said she gave the city the benefit of the doubt when it came to the cleanliness of the school buildings.
“I’m afraid, but they said they did a good job cleaning it, so I trust them,” she said.
Wiener, 55, who also has two other sons, was admitted to Flushing Hospital Center two weeks ago when he began experiencing a high fever due to the flu and died May 17.
Despite being closed down for 11 days after Wiener and four students contracted swine flu, IS 238 welcomed back the students, who returned to class confident after enjoying the nice weather in the playground.
Serenity Ford. 12, a sixth−grader from Springfield Gardens, said she felt safe in her classroom because the city worked hard to make it swine flu−free.
“I feel like it is still in the area, but the school is sanitized so it’s better inside than out,” she said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at ipereira@c
©2009 Community News Group
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