School Climate & Safety

Here’s How to Help Teachers and Students Affected by the California Wildfires

By Sarah Schwartz — November 15, 2018 2 min read
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As the most destructive wildfire in California’s history has torn through Butte County in northern California, teachers and students in the area have lost their homes and their classrooms.

“At this point, teachers are basically in shock,” said Cynthia Menzel, a spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association.

Of the 250 CTA members living in Paradise, a town in Butte County that has been decimated by the fires, 100 have applied for assistance from the union’s disaster relief fund, said Menzel.

In total, the so-called Camp Fire has burned 140,000 acres and destroyed more than 8,600 homes in its path across the region, according to state officials.

At the same time, another blaze, the Woolsey Fire, has burned more than 98,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Between the two fires, 59 people have died. Six of the state’s 10 most destructive wildfires, of which the Camp Fire is one, have occured in the past four years.

In Paradise, students and teachers don’t yet know when they will be able to return to school. On Wednesday, the Butte County Office of Education held a summit to discuss plans for educating students going forward.

Many schools have been damaged to the point where classes cannot resume there, said Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, at the summit. At least one of the Paradise district’s schools, Paradise Elementary, is completely destroyed, CNN reported.

All schools in Butte County are closed through Friday, Nov. 23.

Recovering and reopening after natural disasters can be a huge undertaking for districts, as my colleague Denisa Superville reported earlier this year. Administrators have to juggle infrastructure failure and complicated logistics, all while trying to get students back in classroom as quickly as possible.

For those looking to donate to survivors of the fire, here is a list of local charities and crowdfunding campaigns supporting students, teachers, and the community:

  • The Butte County Schools Fire Relief Fund will provide donations directly to districts affected by the fire. Donors can earmark their contribution for a specific school district or purpose (e.g. textbooks or clothes), or they can make an open donation. The fund was organized by the Butte County Office of Education and is operated through local nonprofit North Valley Community Foundation.

  • Caring Choices, a Chico-based nonprofit, is serving as an emergency hub to organize volunteers across Northern California. The organization is taking donations to support its operations.

  • The American Red Cross has opened evacuation centers and is serving meals in affected areas. Donors can specify that their contribution go toward California wildfire relief.

Image: Sarah Gronseth kisses her dog Branch in the bed of a truck in a parking lot on Nov. 13, 2018, in Chico Calif. Gronseth, a teacher, evacuated some of her high school students in her truck as the fire bore down on the high school in Paradise, Calif. She lost her home in the fire. —John Locher/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.

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