By NYIP Director Chuck DeLaney - On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, I was the NYIP staff member closest to the Twin Towers. There was a roaring noise, and then the shadow of American Airlines Flight 11, hijacked shortly after leaving Boston’s Logan Airport, darkened the schoolyard at P.S. 234 where I was standing just three short blocks north of the Trade Center. A split second later, the doomed Flight 11 plowed into the north face of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. That moment, and the hours that followed, began a challenging time the country, the world, and for our NYIP staff and faculty.
I was in the schoolyard because it was my daughter’s third day of kindergarten. It’s a story for another time, but my family was fine although we were out of our home for over a month. Fortunately, no members of our staff or their families were hurt in the attack. Our receptionist’s mother, who worked at a large corporation headquartered in the Trade Center which lost over 100 employees, didn't go in to work that day. The son of one of our registrar staff spent the day driving injured and ash-covered people to the nearest hospital.
Collectively in the days that followed, the entire New York region worked through the shock of the attack. Transportation was disrupted. Downtown resembled a war zone. Subways skipped stops near the Trade Center. Impromptu memorials sprang up around the city, particularly at firehouses. People who lived near the World Trade Center site were forced to leave their homes for weeks. Since NYIP teaches by distance education, the Anthrax threat that followed on the heels of the 9/11 attacks became a very serious problem. Some students expressed concern about receiving packages from the School, and some of our staff voiced concern about the incoming mail. I personally felt the danger of Anthrax contamination was low, but in order to allay the concerns we took some specific steps. We sent out letters to all students explaining that all our packages and correspondence were prepared by our staff in our offices and warehouse and taken by us directly to the post office. To handle incoming mail, I and another staff member who volunteered for the task put on surgical masks, rubber gloves, and scrutinized each piece of mail in the most remote corner of our office. We surrounded ourselves with various protective washes, a fire extinguisher, and other safety paraphernalia. My feeling was that if it would make the NYIP staff feel safer, I’d open the mail wearing a clown suit.
I’m very proud of the way our staff and faculty kept focused on our mission in the weeks and months after the attacks. Perhaps even more interesting was the seriousness of purpose that we observed in students – many applied themselves to their coursework with a new level of determination. This didn’t surprise me because great tragedy often inspires people to express themselves through their creativity.
As I stood at the back of the PS 234 schoolyard and looked at the angry, fire-orange hole near the top of 1 World Trade Center seconds after Flight 11 struck it, it was apparent this was an historic event, even before the subsequent horror of the remainder of that bright blue, crisp autumn morning.