Most school districts thought they were prepared before wildfires and mudslides devastated communities and schools in California. Many of those who lost the most were immigrant families who trust the schools not only to educate their children but to be a vital source of information when dealing with the government. School district officials in Sonoma, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties recently shared their takeaways from the devastation in California at a conference at the University of Southern California in hopes that others could learn from their experiences.
Most schools thought they were ready to deal with communicating with the community where they lived until a disaster actually happened. Then, cell phones and other means of communication became unreliable. Schools often found that they were communicating via text messages and web postings.
Another takeaway is that students may feel stress in many different ways. For example, schools were prepared to handle the trauma that came from losing homes, but not the trauma felt by students who had a displaced individual move in with their family. Other students felt stress because they lost a loved one through natural occurrences, and they felt totally ignored.
Schools were also not prepared to deal with the influx of donations that came their way quickly. Most schools say that they wish they had a full-time person to deal with these responsibilities. Yet, they are extremely thankful for those individuals or businesses that reached out during their time of need.
Finally, school superintendents wish that they had taken more time to make sure that their staff was OK. For example, Sonoma County Office of Education Superintendent Steven Harrington’s wife was at a local hospital being treated for cancer when the fires erupted. Other staff lost their homes or had people move in with them.
School officials say that parents need to realize that it may take up to two years for districts to fully recover. They urge that other districts remain very transparent about the decisions they are making and the reasons behind them.