Powerful winter storms delay return to school for thousands of California students

Powerful winter storms delay return to school for thousands of California students

Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

A father helps his daughter through flooded streets in his Watsonville neighborhood Monday morning.

Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

A father helps his daughter through flooded streets in his Watsonville neighborhood Monday morning.

A string of significant storms downed trees and flooded waterways, causing the closure of hundreds of schools in California on Monday, delaying the return to school from winter break for many students and sending others home by noon.

Although rainfall slowed in some parts of the state as the day progressed, the Central Coast and other areas of the state were battered by strong winds and heavy rain, prompting evacuation orders as creeks, streams and rivers, already at capacity of a week. storms, began to rise.

Students in Santa Barbara County were abruptly sent home Monday afternoon after the county issued an emergency evacuation order and flash flood warning for several communities. All 20 schools in the district will remain closed today.

Much of Santa Cruz County was also evacuated, closing roads and shutting down multiple campuses.

Parts of Monterey County were evacuated due to rapidly rising water levels in local waterways. All major rivers in Monterey County are expected to be at flood stage by 9 p.m. or sooner, Brett McFadden, deputy supervisor at the Monterey County Office of Education, said Monday.

Seven of the county’s school districts were closed Monday, including the Carmel Unified School District, which has one school and its district office in an evacuation zone. Despite that, most of the county’s schools are open, with damage limited to downed trees, standing water, leaking roofs and power outages, McFadden said.

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“We make decisions about closing schools every hour,” he said. “We have recommended that all LEAs (local education associations) assess the conditions and continue to monitor things and make decisions tomorrow.”

When deciding whether to open a school during a weather event, the first consideration is the safety of staff and students as they travel to and from school, and while on district campuses, McFadden said.

Most county education offices have designated staff who are briefed at least daily to their county’s Emergency Operations Center.

McFadden joined Safety Coordinator Nicholas Zafiratos, program coordinator for the Monterey County Office of Education’s Safe Schools for All Program, at the county’s emergency response headquarters this week due to the high risk of flooding in the county. He expected briefings to continue through Monday night.

Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

A family watches flood waters rise in front of their home off E. Lake Avenue in Watsonville on Monday. Pajaro County Unified School District canceled classes Monday and Tuesday due to flood warnings and evacuations.

Marin and San Luis Obispo counties also had several school districts closed Monday, with many closed Tuesday.

Not all school closures were on the coast. School districts in Nevada, Sacramento, Madera and San Joaquin counties also reported campus closures Monday.

The Sacramento City Unified School District closed all schools Monday as a precaution, but reopened most campuses today. It is not clear whether the five schools that were without power on Monday will reopen today. The area remains under a flood watch.

College campuses were not immune from the shutdowns. Students, faculty, staff and livestock were evacuated from several Cal Poly San Luis Obispo agricultural facilities Monday afternoon due to an impending breach at Shephard Reservoir. There is no immediate threat to the main campus, according to the university.

UC Santa Cruz lost power to some of its buildings Monday and will continue with online classes through Wednesday, according to the university. San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton was also closed Monday as a precaution.

Due to the changing nature of the weather, decisions to close schools are often made at the last minute. It was 7:30 a.m. Monday before Del Norte Unified families were notified that power had been restored to all of the district’s schools and that schools would be open that day.

Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District officials decided to close at 7 a.m. Monday due to possible flooding, according to Eric Wittmershaus, spokesman for the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Four other districts in the county were also closed, although 35 were open, according to Wittmershaus. Most of the affected schools are in rural areas in the western part of the county that have either lost power or had roads blocked by fallen trees.

The Horicon Elementary School District remains closed after the school ran out of propane for the generators that were powering the school after it lost power last week. Access to the school was also blocked because trees fell on the only road leading to it, Wittmershaus said.

The Guerneville school district remains closed due to concerns about possible flooding from the Russian River and other nearby waterways. The district was closed on Thursday after the river was predicted to rise that day.

“In general, the issue has not been damage to the actual school buildings, but to the infrastructure in the areas around them,” said Wittmershaus of the county schools.

Heavy rain is expected to continue through Wednesday across much of the state, increasing the potential for flooding and continued school closures.

Credit: La Honda-Pescadero Unified

The storage unit at La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District is surrounded by water Monday.

Tuesday Fort Ross Elementary School District, Guerneville School District, Horicon Elementary School District, Kashia Elementary School District, Monte Rio Union School District and Montgomery Elementary School District will remain closed, according to the office’s press release of Sonoma County Education issued Monday afternoon.

The Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District in Nevada County canceled classes Monday and Tuesday because of the weather, which included heavy snow. The Truckee area is under a winter storm warning until 4:00 PM Wednesday.

Planada Elementary School District in Merced County is closed due to flooding. Superintendent José González reported that there were three feet of water in five classrooms and another eight classrooms about to flood.

Weather conditions have eased enough for students in Humboldt County to return to school from winter break today, said Ken Conlin, spokesman for the Humboldt County Office of Education. Big Lagoon Union and Kneeland elementary school districts, as well as the Orick school district remained closed due to power outages.

The Rio Dell School District in Humboldt was closed for other reasons. It plans to reopen schools today after closing on Dec. 20 after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck the community. A 5.4-magnitude aftershock on Jan. 1 also added to the damage at two district schools — Eagle Prairie Elementary School and Monument Middle School. Contractors and structural engineers assessed the damage and cleared the classrooms of occupancy.

“The earthquakes have had a significant impact on RDSD families and staff, with at least 15 families losing their homes or having their homes damaged and eight staff and board members affected,” according to a press release from the Office of Education. of Humboldt County.

School staff returned to the school Monday for training that included how to help students and families in need of resources after the earthquake.

Students also returned to Sunol Glen School in Alameda County on Monday after heavy rains on Dec. 31 flooded their campus and damaged three classrooms and destroyed the kindergarten, athletic track and playground. Community volunteers, school staff and a restoration management company worked to prepare the campus for students returning from winter break. Last week Superintendent Molleen Barnes said classrooms that had been in portables would be moved to the cafeteria and students would eat lunch in the library.

“It was a bit hairy as three of the four access roads to our school were closed due to road flooding,” she said. “With only one road open, we have 95% of my staff here and 75% of my students present. I am so relieved and grateful. Of course, safety is the number one priority; however, I strongly believe – and the pandemic illustrates this – that students should be in school if possible.”

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