Thousands of students in Santa Rosa, Calif., returned to classes Friday morning for the first time since wildfires that devastated the area forced the cancellation of classes nearly three weeks ago.
KTVU-TV reports that 13 schools in the Santa Rosa City district—nine elementary, one middle, two high, and a charter campus—welcomed students back. The 11 other schools in the district are set to reopen Monday.
Cleaning crews have worked around the clock to prepare the campuses for students, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports.
Diann Kitamura, district superintendent, says all campuses were in some way affected by the fire and had to be professionally cleaned. Some 3,000 HVAC air filters were replaced, four high school turf fields were remediated, and assessments were conducted by professional air and water hygienists.
Officials said the fires destroyed the homes of almost 80 district teachers and staff and more than 900 students have homes that are in fire zones. At Piner High School, one of 13 Santa Rosa schools that has reopened, the community was one of hardest hit by the fires. About 80 students lost their homes, as did four staff members.
“Our children, our staff have faced a tragic event and now our goal is to help all of our children and staff return to stability and familiarity,” Kitamura says. “At this time we don’t even know exactly what’s going to be the impact until they get back to school.”
Teachers and staff were asked to return to schools two days before the reopening dates to meet with one another and counselors who have been brought in to all the school sites.