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Calif. Fires Close Over 500 K-12 Schools, Raise State Funding Concerns

School districts will be able to apply for waivers for the 180-day instructional requirement and funding related to lost attendance.

Calif. Fires Close Over 500 K-12 Schools, Raise State Funding Concerns

As of Sunday night, the Thomas Fire became the fifth largest wildfire in modern California history.

Last week, more than 500 K-12 campuses were shut down as several wildfires continue to devastate Southern California.

The largest closure was in the Los Angeles Unified School District. A total of 384 schools were closed on Thursday and Friday due to poor air quality and traffic as freeways began to shut down, according to the LA School Report.

L.A. schools are expected to reopen today due to improved air quality and the lift of a mandatory evacuation.

“L.A. Unified crews will be working through the weekend to install new air filters at closed schools and ensure that facilities are ready for teaching and learning to resume,” the district posted on its website Friday. “Some outdoor activities may be limited until air quality returns to normal levels.”

All schools in the San Fernando Valley were closed as well in addition to 16 schools in Local District West and 50 independent charter schools.

As of Thursday afternoon, 207,000 students were affected in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. In Ventura, 146 campuses were closed.

On Friday and Saturday, L.A. Unified served meals at three schools to families affected by school closures. The district also had extended hours at its recreation centers.

Superintendent: State to Provide Assistance to Affected Schools

The widespread closures of K-12 schools have been of concern to many districts whose state funding is based in part on student attendance, according to the Washington Post.

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, says the state will provide assistance to affected schools.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized federal funding requested by the state of California for the Thomas, Creek, Rye and Skirball fires.

“The state of California supports districts impacted by a natural disaster by allowing them to apply for a waiver of the 180-day instructional requirement,” says Barbara Jones of the L.A. Unified District’s communications department. The waiver will allow students to not have to make up the lost school days.

L.A. Unified will also apply to receive funding related to the loss of attendance by using attendance from comparable time frames in past years.

“This is particularly important because it applies not only to schools that are actually closed, but also to nearby campuses that show a drop in attendance of more than 2 percent,” continues Jones.

In December 2015, L.A. Unified was closed for one day due to an email threat. Losing one day of attendance would have cost the district $29 million if Torlakson did not approve compensation.

Los Angeles will have to apply for both the waiver and attendance funding through the Los Angeles County Office of Education. It is then sent to the California Department of Education and then to the State Board of Education for final approval.

As of Sunday night, the Thomas Fire had burned 230,000 acres, making it the fifth largest wildfire in modern California history, according to the LA Times. Containment dropped from 15 percent to 10 percent Sunday night as the fire grew due to high winds and low humidity.

About the Author

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Amy Rock is Campus Safety's senior editor. She graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in Education.

She has worked in the publishing industry since 2011, in both events and digital marketing.

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