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Schools schools assess damage and prepare to reopen

SVHS saves the day

According to Congressman Mike Thompson, the Sonoma Valley High School shelter provided a safe place for more than 350 Valley residents during the first nights of the fires, with numbers going down each night and 46 people staying there on Sunday night. On Sunday, City and school district staff met personally with the shelter residents to provide this information, to answer their questions, and to support them through this next transition.

“We would like to extend a huge thank you to the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, who opened, managed and operated this shelter since the first day of the fire storm,” said Thompson. “The shelter was entirely staffed by the administrators, teachers and staff of the school district and our amazing community volunteers.”

All school-based evacuation centers in Sonoma County are in the process of being closed, and evacuees transferred to Red Cross-operated centers so that the campuses can prepare to reopen. The evacuation center at Sonoma Valley High School and the campground at Sonoma Raceway that had been available to evacuees both closed on Monday, Oct. 10. Over the next few weeks, the County will be assessing locations for longer-term shelters.

People will be transitioned to alternative shelters in Sonoma County. According to Sonoma Police Chief Bret Sackett, on Sunday evening, the evacuees were steered primarily to a shelter in Petaluma or the shelter at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds. He said that the move was expected to be complete by late afternoon on Monday.

As of midday on Monday, Flowery and Dunbar elementary schools,and Altimira Middle School, as well as the district offices on Railroad Avenue, were still without power, including phone and Internet service, as was the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, which is located on the district office grounds.

“We have been told by PG&E that they are going to try to get power restored to our campuses overnight tonight,” said district Human Resources Director Loyal Carlon on Monday.

Staff had just returned from surveying all the campuses and reported that the only campus to sustain any damage was Glen Ellen’s Dunbar School, and the news from there was better than expected.

“Dunbar’s outdoor stage and kindergarten playground were damaged but the overall campus is fine,” said Carlon.

“We’re incredibly grateful to the firefighters and first responders,” said Dunbar principal Jilliam Beall. “It is because of them that, in our 160th year, Dunbar remains standing strong.”

SVEF executive director Deb Garber said that that they were “heartbroken with every story of loss and devastation.” She noted that in addition to the many students who lost their homes or were displaced due to mandatory evacuations or power outages, the district faculty and administration has not been spared either, and some were living in the shelter at SVHS over the weekend.

“Students across our Valley are struggling with fear, loss, and uncertainty,” she said. “But we are in this together, and we will rebuild as a community.”

The district office has distributed surveys via Google Docs to assess how many of their staff members were affected by the fire and expected to have trouble returning to work on Monday. The survey asked campus principals to share any information they had of school families impacted by the fire.

“We’ll been gathering and analyzing that information all week,” said Carlon.

According to Carlon, teachers are planning to return to work on Thursday, Oct. 19 to prepare for students to return on Oct 23. The district is also exploring the possibility of rescheduling parent conferences.

Carlon planned to meet with the district school leadership team throughout the week to discuss how to support school staff and families affected by the fires. In addition to preparing handouts of the resources available to families, he was working on logistical issues as well.

“We’re working on transportation issues in particular,” said Carlon. “Our bus drivers will be doing test runs to see which roads are passable and to adjust routes if necessary.” Carlon was unsure at press time what kind of arrangements would or could be made for families now staying in shelters outside of Sonoma Valley.

SVHS saves the day

According to Congressman Mike Thompson, the Sonoma Valley High School shelter provided a safe place for more than 350 Valley residents during the first nights of the fires, with numbers going down each night and 46 people staying there on Sunday night. On Sunday, City and school district staff met personally with the shelter residents to provide this information, to answer their questions, and to support them through this next transition.

“We would like to extend a huge thank you to the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, who opened, managed and operated this shelter since the first day of the fire storm,” said Thompson. “The shelter was entirely staffed by the administrators, teachers and staff of the school district and our amazing community volunteers.”

“Enrollment may take a hit,” he said. “We just don’t know yet.”

Sonoma Valley High School principal Kathleen Hawing said that students are beginning to talk about rescheduling Homecoming.

“We want to move forward with Homecoming,” said Hawing. “We are working on and it and consulting the with City on ways that we might still make it happen.”

Hawing pointed out that sports competitions are likely to be impacted by the closure. She does not expect any sports events to take place this week.

“We have concern about air quality, we aren’t sure our coaches are available, we don’t know which teams would be available to play, we don’t even know if we have all of our atletes available,” she said. “There are so many unknown factors that we can’t guess yet at when sports will resume.”

Carlon reported that the school’s maintenance crews were working long hours fanning out to check all campuses and begin cleaning and preparing the sites for students next week.

In terms of preparing for the start of school on Monday, Oct. 23, Carlon said that the district was required to change every air filter on every campus. Sonoma Valley High, which served as an evacuation center for a week, is being cleaned “from top to bottom.”

Contact Lorna at ourschools@sonomanews.com.

SVUSD has created a video to explain the process and decision-making behind the reopening of the schools below:

And it is in Spanish at

Note: Any belongings left at the SVHS shelter can be picked up at City Hall starting at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16 or phone 938-3691.