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Classes to Start for Students of Destroyed School [AUDIO]

Jerome Higgins, the custodian supervisor at James Monroe Elementary School in Edison, has been charged with a disorderly persons offense for flipping a lit cigarette butt into a trash can last weekend. Minutes after that happened, the entire school burned to the ground.

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Fire damage at the James Monroe School in Edison
Fire damage at the James Monroe School in Edison (Edison Office of Emergency Management)

Monday night at Edison High School, hundreds of parents attended an informational meeting to find out what was going to happen next.

School officials announced children will return to school Wednesday, in temporary classrooms at Middlesex County College.

They also outlined transportation plans, and told parents to visit the elementary school website on Tuesday to get specific drop-off and pickup information, and answers to other questions.

“It’s important for everyone in the community to know we are moving forward,” said James Monroe principal Lynda Zapoticzny. “We’ve closed one chapter in our school’s history, but we are facing, as our theme was this year ironically, a whole new world.”

She said the school will explore that world together.

“It’s not about the facility or the building or the brick and mortar, it’s about us as a community, it’s about staying together as one whole,” Zapoticzny said. “We’ve developed from the ground up, we’ve learned about each other, we’ve built our culture together.”

The principal said some children may have been traumatized by the fire, but she believes they can rebound.

“What we find for the most part is that children are very resilient, so if you keep them together and they see their friends and their teachers, that okay — it’s cool, it’s good,” she said. “We’re still all here and we’re still doing the same rituals, the same traditions that we’ve always done as a community.”

Zapoticzny is confident the school will come back stronger than ever.

“We all share the same philosophy,” she said. “Our teachers are extremely professional, they are what keep me steady, they set that bar high for all of us. I know this is just a little blip on the radar, and we’re moving full steam ahead.”

During the informational meeting, school officials estimated it will take about two years before a new school will be built. However, they indicated they will look for a temporary school building to rent, so the entire elementary student body can be kept together for the coming months and years.

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