Greeted by welcome signs hung over the door and in the hallways, students began returning Monday to the first regular public school to reopen since Hurricane Katrina hit three months ago.
"The main thing is, the kids want to be home," Tony Collins said as he brought his son, James, a fifth-grader.
He said he will be dropping off James — who used to attend a different school — every day at Ben Franklin Elementary School as he commutes from Baton Rouge, where he has been staying since the storm hit.
After bringing James to school, Collins will head out to his eastern New Orleans home, which he is trying to salvage while on leave from his job.
Kindergarten through sixth-grade students began arriving at the three-story brick building shortly before 8 a.m.
First-day enrollment was expected to be about 200 at Ben Franklin Elementary, in the affluent uptown area that was relatively unscathed by the storm.
Shy in front of the cameras
Before Katrina, it was a math-science magnet school with 390 students from preschool through eighth grade.
First to arrive were 12-year-old Kenneth and 7-year-old Branden Galeano, with their father, Jorge. Both boys were shy in the face of numerous television cameras waiting to greet them.
Kenneth said he'd been going to school in Tennessee since his family evacuated.
Asked what he thought of that school, he said it was, "good, but not that much."
"This signals that school is up and running, and that's a good thing," Orleans Parish School Board member Heidi Daniels said.
Some private schools in New Orleans began reopening in October, but no public schools had opened, with the exception of a few charters that were outside the local board's control.
"I think parents will find comfort in being able to put their children in school," Daniels said. "This will help people return to a sense of normalcy."