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Santa Barbara Schools Closed Until 2018 Due to Thomas Fire

The Santa Barbara Unified School District has been closed since last Thursday as many of its students and teachers live in mandatory evacuation areas.

Santa Barbara Schools Closed Until 2018 Due to Thomas Fire

The Santa Barbara Unified School District serves over 15,000 K-12 students.

By the end of this week, schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District will have been closed for seven days, making it the longest closure in the district’s history since the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 that killed 20 to 40 million people worldwide.

Santa Barbara Unified School District leaders chose to cancel classes beginning last Thursday due to the growing Thomas Fire and unhealthy air pollution, according to Noozhawk

The district serves over 15,000 students in its K-12 schools.

“We’ve obviously closed for fire, smoke in the past but never more than a day or two here or there,” says Kate Parker, president of the school board. “Most of our extended fire, smoke events, like the Zaca Fire, happened in the summer, while other recent ones like the Jesusita or Tea Fires were incredibly damaging but brought under control relatively quickly.”

The decision to remain closed also lies in the fact that 150 of its 320 district employees live in Carpinteria and Ventura County, parts of which are under mandatory evacuation orders or voluntary evacuation orders.

Many of the district’s students live in the Montecito and Santa Barbara areas which are still under mandatory evacuation orders and are unable to get to their homes.

The school board made its announcement on Sunday to remain closed this week after meeting twice daily to monitor the impact of the fire.

Some of the district’s campuses have been used as community resources. San Marcos High School has been hosting community meetings and other high school campuses have been used as fire personnel staging areas.

Winter break for the district begins December 18, which district spokeswoman Lauren Bianchi Klemann says will help give them time to create reopening plans.

“The winter break will allow our district time to conduct appropriate assessments identified by regional leadership and from lessons learned from Sonoma and Napa Counties,” says Bianchi Klemann.

To avoid having to make up lost school days, the Santa Barbara County Education Office has applied for a waiver for its school districts from the California Department of Education, according to The Tribune. This is the district’s fourth waiver in the past 15 years due to natural disasters.

Parker says the closures have been especially difficult for families who rely on school meals and childcare.

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County says Santa Barbara-area children miss over 28,000 meals each day the schools are closed.

“The Foodbank is stepping up to distribute extra groceries. It’s very, very tough knowing that with this type of disruption, as well as during our regular short vacations like winter or spring break, we have students who will go hungry,” says Parker.

Other South California schools that have decided to remain closed through the end of the year include Carpinteria Unified School District, Montecito Union School, Cold Spring School District, Hope Elementary School District and Goleta Union School District.

Local colleges and universities have also shut down for extended periods of time.

Westmont College remains closed as it’s within the mandatory evacuation zone and is being used as a staging area for hundreds of firefighters.

Santa Barbara Community College will remain closed through December 18 and UC Santa Barbara has decided to reschedule its finals for the week of January 8.

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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