paradiselogo Paradise Unified School District

Officials in fire-ravaged California district work to get students back to school

The devastating Camp Fire destroyed or badly damaged all nine campuses in the Paradise Unified School District.

Most of the school facilities in the Paradise (Calif.) Unified School District have been destroyed in the devastating Camp Fire, but district leaders are aiming to resume classes in some fashion next week.

The Sacramento Bee reports that administrators, teachers and staff have been working out of makeshift offices in the city of Chico. They have been tracking down the families of the more than 3,500 Paradise Unified students to find out if they lost their homes and get a sense of their plans going forward.

“People are running on fumes—they’re running on less than fumes.,” says Kindra Britt, a public information officer with the Placer County Office of Education and one of many from outside Butte County who have joined the recovery effort. “It gives them a lot of hope to know there will be a date, that on Dec. 3 something will happen.”

It was Nov. 8 when the Camp Fire decimated the town of Paradise and neighboring communities, claiming at least 84 lives and consuming more than 18,000 buildings. The wildfire, the deadliest in California history, either destroyed or badly damaged all nine campuses in Paradise Unified along with six charter schools. At latest count, more than 400 people were still missing.

Marc Kessler, a science teacher at the 600-student Paradise Intermediate School, says he and other teachers and administrators have confirmed that 90 percent of that school’s students lost their homes. Families are living in hotels, trailers, and tents.

At least 150 students from Paradise have enrolled in Chico schools. These and other displaced students are covered under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a 1987 federal law that, among other things, allows students who are homeless to enroll in school without having to show proof of residency or immunization records.

But Chico Unified can’t handle everyone. So officials have been scouring Chico and the surrounding area for classroom space.

Butte County Superintendent Tim Taylor says Paradise Unified in the immediate term will be a “hopscotch” of classrooms housed in portables and vacant commercial buildings. He said they are close to securing two large vacated retail stores that can be converted into classrooms.

Simultaneous with the efforts by Butte County and Paradise Unified officials, California’s charter school community has rallied around the six charter schools in Paradise that saw their campuses either destroyed or badly damaged in the fire. The schools serve more than 800 students in and around Paradise.

Charter officials are scrambling to make contact with their students and find places to school them. Although the search for facilities is a struggle, it’s something charters have plenty of experience with, says Caity Heim, a spokeswoman for the charter schools’ association.

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