Schooling was disrupted for students throughout Southern California last week as raging wildfires forced closure of about 300 schools in seven counties and turned some schools into emergency shelters amid a mandatory evacuation of 321,000 people.
Since Oct. 21, wildfires, fueled for days by strong winds, have struck an area from the Mexican border to north of Los Angeles. Though winds had subsided by week’s end, and school districts were making plans to reopen this week, state school authorities said about 650,000 students had been affected in some way. They included those whose schools were closed or who chose to remain at home, and others whose transportation was disrupted.
President Bush declared a state of emergency for the seven affected counties—Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura—freeing up federal money to help with disaster relief and recovery.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell assured schools that were serving as shelters or that had been forced to close because of the wildfires that they would not lose state funding based on average daily attendance.
In addition, Mr. O’Connell promised to push for state legislation that would reimburse or grant waivers to schools that, as a result of displaced students, exceed the maximum 20-to-1 pupil-teacher ratio needed to receive incentive money—about $1,000 per student—under California’s class-size-reduction program.
“We’re here to remove barriers and provide assistance,” he said in an interview last week.
There is no official plan for how schools will make up the missed days, but they likely will be added to the end of the school year, said Tina W. Jung, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.
In the 133,000-student San Diego Unified School District, which closed all of its roughly 200 schools last week, three schools were turned into emergency shelters and teacher volunteers held lessons there for cooped-up students.
“In this kind of situation, your true colors do come out, and we’ve been exceptionally proud of our staff,” said Ursula Kroemer, a spokeswoman for the district.
A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 2007 edition of Education Week