Update on Sonoma County Schools After the Firestorm
The fires that raged through the North Bay beginning Oct. 8 have taken an unprecedented toll on Sonoma County’s 40 school districts, 183 schools, and roughly 71,000 students.
Some have asked how many teachers, school staff, and students lost homes in the fires. It is far too early to have exact numbers, as school districts are still reaching out to staff and students to get a precise idea of who was affected. Already, the reported number of teachers and staff who lost homes stands at close to 250, while the number of students is around 329. The Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) expects that, unfortunately, all these numbers will grow significantly in the days and weeks ahead as the community learns the full measure of the toll the fires have taken.
At the peak of the fire’s impact, all but about three of the county’s school districts were closed - roughly 180 schools. Two weeks later, school districts are re-opening in waves as they recover from the fire. Recovery efforts include ensuring that hundreds of displaced teachers and school staff have housing so that they can return to work, caring for hundreds of displaced students, and cleaning fire- and smoke- damaged school sites to ensure a safe environment. As of Friday, 11 school districts, including the largest one in Sonoma County, remained closed. More information on school closures is available here.
SCOE is coordinating efforts on a number of levels to ensure that schools can re-open as quickly as possible, while also making sure school sites are cleaned of any fire-related health hazards and safe for students. SCOE staff are also working around the clock to make sure that administrators, counselors, and teachers have the support they need to provide a comforting, safe, and healing learning environment for students once they return.
In the wake of this tragedy, there will be a real need to address the trauma and long-term displacement that so many of our students, their families, and their teachers have experienced. On Oct. 17, SCOE hosted a trauma-informed training for more than 150 counselors and school psychologists. The goal was to give them the tools they need to go back and support their teachers and their students. Schools, aided by an incredible outpouring of community support, are working to ensure that students have the clothes, back packs, school supplies, hygiene kits, and so much more that they need to come back to school. Many school districts will be taking in students who are displaced from their original school districts due to loss of homes. They are preparing for that as best they can and may have to set up portables and more to accommodate the influx of students.
The Rights of Displaced Students
Countless children in our community have lost their homes. Per federal law, every student who has become homeless/displaced due to the disaster has the right to enroll in school, regardless of his or her current location. SCOE is working closely with school districts to ensure families know their rights under the law and experience as seamless a transition as possible into a new school site, if that is necessary.
More information is available here.
Additional school/student support efforts
- Public Resources Offered Through SCOE
- www.scoe.org homepage (see "Fire Recovery Resources" at the top right corner)
- Schools have access to the print resources in both English and Spanish to give to parents and families
- Train-the-Trainer Crisis Response
- SCOE has offered (and will continue to offer) general and site/district-specific Crisis Response Trainings for school counselors, school psychologists, site/district administrators and their designees. The training is designed to equip the counselors/psychologists to lead their respective staffs in a training of how to best care for themselves and their students as schools resume.
- Coordination/Allocation of Resources
- Through the end of October (and possibly longer) SCOE is organizing and managing the allocation of countywide requests from schools for social-emotional support. Examples of support include: training, individual or group counseling, the use of comfort dogs, etc.
- Districts are able to make specific requests through SCOE, and we'll either fulfill the request internally or look for the best community resources to match their need.
- Counseling support and comfort dogs are already at the school sites back in session
- Communication and Coordination Between Agencies
- The forty school district superintendents are meeting regularly to coordinate efforts. SCOE Superintendent of Schools and Sonoma County Department of Health Services Behavioral Health Director are in direct and regular contact.
- SCOE Special Education Assistant Superintendent is in regular contact with Sonoma County Family, Youth and Children’s Services Division Child Welfare Director
- SCOE Foster Youth Services Coordinator is in direct and regular contact with the section managers at Sonoma County Family, Youth and Children’s Services Division.