It’ll be another week before the first wave of students in Santa Rosa City Schools return to class, while thousands of other students in the city — including those in three high schools — won’t find out their return date until at least Monday.
After fires broke out late Oct. 8, the school district, the largest in the county, canceled classes for all 16,400 of its students.
Superintendent Diann Kitamura announced late Wednesday in a letter that classes will resume Oct. 27 at 13 schools following an extensive cleanup. That group — representing about half of the district’s students — includes Maria Carrillo and Piner high schools.
The wait for the other half of students appears to be longer. District officials will determine Monday the reopening date for those 11 campuses, including Santa Rosa High, Elsie Allen High and Montgomery High
The only Santa Rosa district campus lost in the fire was Hidden Valley Satellite on Parker Hill Road. No other main campuses were reported to have suffered damage from the flames.
But Kitamura said the district needs to reopen in phases to allow for cleaning facilities of ash and debris. Together, the campuses total more than 2 million square feet of space. Three thousand air filters need to be replaced, according to the district.
Teachers and staff also need to be in place. Seventy school employees and 230 student families lost their homes, Kitamura said earlier this week. She was not available for an interview Thursday.
The re-opening announcement was made Wednesday online at the district’s website, with a robocall alert to parents. An emailed news release was sent out Thursday.
A crew of 200 workers were out cleaning campuses this week, said Will Lyon, president of the teachers union, which has been providing financial support to teachers who lost their homes or were evacuated. Although some schools were far from the fire zones, he said their playgrounds, walkways and doorways were covered in soot.
“You can’t just sweep it,” Lyon said. “What they’re worried about is the burnt chemical residue left behind.”
Some parents expressed concerns and frustration their children will be out for at least another week while other districts in the county already reopened and several more are expected to do so early next week.
“Our kids are going to be out of school for three weeks,” said Tonya Hoffman, a family physician with a 5-year-old son at Proctor Terrace Elementary. “What are the repercussions for that?”
Proctor is among the Santa Rosa campuses opening next Friday. Hoffman said she heard from numerous families scrambling to find childcare as they return to work and deal with the fire’s aftermath.
Hoffman, 40, the medical supervisor at Sonoma County’s Juvenile Hall, had to take her son to the probation camp to treat a juvenile with an ingrown toenail. “I didn’t have a place for my kid to go.”
“The kids are losing out because there is no programming for them,” Hoffman said. “Kids need routine. They need to process what’s going on … They really need to be with their peers.”
Of the Santa Rosa district families affected by the fires, about half came from the Coffey Park neighborhood.
State education officials said local school districts will not be financially penalized for the lost days of instruction during the emergency closures. Students also won’t have to make up the missed school days, Lyon said.
“School still ends on June 1,” he said.
In outlying areas of Santa Rosa, Piner-Olivet and Mark West school districts plan to reopen Oct. 30. The Tubbs fire that broke out Oct. 8 leveled many of their Coffey Park and Mark West Springs neighborhoods, respectively, although their schools escaped the flames.
The devastation was complete at the Hidden Valley Satellite campus, which serves kindergarten through second grade. The fire charred lunch tables next to the main office, which was reduced to twisted metal and other debris. The 82 students who attended the school and their teachers will move down the road to Hidden Valley Elementary School.
“I’m looking forward to the kids coming back (and) moving forward through this trauma with them,” said Paul Drake, a second-grade teacher at Hidden Valley Elementary School.
Between both Hidden Valley campuses, about 150 kids — a quarter of the student population for the two schools — lost their homes, he said. In his class alone, five kids lost their homes.
“Some of these kids have lost both their homes and school,” said Drake, who helped launch a relief center on Fourth Street near the Russian River Brewery to provide hundreds of children and families backpacks, school supplies, clothing and other basic needs.
The school district plans to ramp up its counseling support once classes resume. It’s bringing in outside therapists to assist school counselors and psychologists.
“Once school starts again, the teachers will be the first responders,” Drake said.