NEW YORK — The nation's largest school system lurched to life Monday, when all but the most affected students still suffering from Superstorm Sandy made their way back to classes on foot, ferry and subway.
Students at Stuyvesant High School, the city's most selective school, swarmed out of Lower Manhattan's subway stations after electricity was restored to the devastated area by the weekend.
"Being cooped up in my house for nine days was not fun," sophomore Nathan Mannes said. "I did my homework, and when I finished that I played some video games."
Fewer than 50 schools throughout the five boroughs remained closed because of structural damage and fewer than 20 were without power, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told reporters at midday. About 16 schools were being used to shelter people left homeless by Sandy, though most of the displaced will be moved out by the time those students return Wednesday, he said.
A handful of schools opened their doors with partial utility service.
"We have power but no heat — so bundle up!" read a sign on the door of the Spruce Street School, which opened last year in a downtown high-rise designed by Frank Gehry.
About 73,000 of the city's 1.1 million public school students were told to stay home Monday while education officials scrambled to ready temporary space for them at functioning schools or to get at least partial power on at schools they usually attend. Mr. Bloomberg and schools chancellor Dennis Walcott said the city will make good use of the Election Day school holiday to ensure relocations go as smoothly as possible.
Morning attendance was about 86 percent, the mayor said, about the same as the day before the nonpresidential election last year. He said 94 percent of 1,700 schools were open.
"It was a relatively successful first day," he said, noting some of the school buildings still closed took severe beatings and may take more time to reopen.
Fare cards for city buses and subways were handed out to an undetermined number of students living in shelters or with loved ones far from school.
In hard-hit New Jersey, buses pulled up to Elementary School 14 in Clifton, where Sheila Carrasquillo dropped off her 11-year-old daughter, Layla. The girl is autistic and suffered through the week at home without special services normally provided at school, including occupational and physical therapy.
"I was trying to keep up some of the routine with her at home," Ms. Carrasquillo said.
On storm-tattered Long Island, Bethpage School District was among the few in damaged areas to open Monday. Curious students at Kramer Avenue Elementary School in Plainview asked each other whether they had heat and electricity at home.
The answer was "no" for Lori Moerler and her fifth-grade daughter, Elizabeth. No heat, no lights and no water.
"You know what? We are very fortunate," Ms. Moerler said after bidding her child goodbye. "There's a lot of people who have nothing. We have our house. We have our family. We're OK."