SAN JOSE, California – Magdalena Moore, the principal of Jeanne R. Meadows Elementary School, waded through puddles between classrooms earlier this week during a rare bright spot. A slew of Pacific storms and a bomb cyclone have battered the San Francisco Bay Area for good the past two weeks, hitting her school and several others.
According to a Pew Charitable Trusts report, students in San Jose are among about four million students attending schools in the nation’s floodplains. Children in the Golden State are the last to be affected by a weather system that has killed several people, caused billions in damage and forced many from their homes to return to face-to-face learning after winter break. The unusual rainfall in a state known for clear skies and warm weather, and infrastructure not necessarily built for prolonged downpours and flooding, has schools grappling with the impact.
Some California schools have had to postpone their return from winter break, and many school officials have spent the past two weeks coordinating to provide meals to displaced families and juggle transportation disruptions due to flooded roads and fallen trees. Some lost power and internet connections and activated power outage protocols to keep classrooms open. And others have seen a drop in attendance — a financial blow to schools funded in part by the number of children attending school each day, according to several school districts contacted by USA TODAY.
Officials said they hope the situation does not worsen with the forecast calling for it more rain. More storms are expected in Northern California this weekend and early next week.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said John Sasaki, a spokesman for the Oakland Unified School District.
In San Francisco, for example, Superintendent Matt Wayne and school officials are working to get sandbags, assess leaks and damage to school buildings, and work with the city to clear fallen trees to “prevent future incidents weather permitting,” he wrote. in a January 9 letter to the school community. The city’s mayor declared a local state of emergency last week.
“We are committed to mobilizing and responding to weather-related emergencies to mitigate the impact of the storm on school sites,” Wayne wrote in the letter, while also thanking district staff “who have worked tirelessly to ensure our schools are safe.” places where students can learn, get a nutritious meal and be under the care of a trusted adult.”
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How are California schools faring after floods and mudslides?
The situation varies. Some districts, including those in Santa Barbara, Sacramento City Unified and West Contra Costa Unified, have had to close at least one school due to the flooding. But many schools across the country remain open during the storm despite the disruptions.
Schools in Berkeley were left without power, telephone and internet last week in a few schools. The district welcomed children back to school and followed power outage protocols, including “bringing in portable lights for hallways and restrooms,” district spokesman Trish McDermott said.
“We’ve had to make some minor changes to bus routes due to minor local flooding, and we’ve experienced minor leaks in a few buildings — but nothing significant,” McDermott said. “Some athletic competitions were also cancelled.”
In Santa Cruz, where much of the city was evacuated, schools opened for the semester as scheduled. The district did not experience any flood damage or power outages, but there were fewer students than usual the first day back and transportation was a problem, said Sam Rolens, a spokesman for the district.
“We’ve had to shift our transportation routes a bit to avoid road closures and minor mudslides, but so far we’ve been able to accommodate all the students we normally serve,” said Rolens.
And in San Ramon, schools opened as normal despite flooding and mud issues in the community that did not directly affect school grounds. minor issues “like leaks in the ceiling or water seeping under a door,” said Ilana Samuels, a spokesperson for the district.
‘The ground is saturated’ Flood risk festers in California as rain hits over the weekend
What is the state doing to help?
The California Department of Education daily supports schools and district offices of education with weather information to “provide technical assistance from response partners both internally and with other state and federal partners,” said Brody Fernandez, a spokesman for the department.
On Friday, Fernandez said the state would monitor the impact on local county schools over the long weekend, when schools are out of term.
How Do Floods Affect American Schools?
Risks to schools from flooding are likely to persist, and there is ongoing concern from experts about learning loss from natural disasters of the same kind.
A 2017 Pew Charitable Trusts report shows that the situation in California is far from the first time floods have hit schools.
“Of the 96,659 public schools in the United States, 2,247 are in the flood zone with a probability of 1 percent per year,” the report reads, adding that the “100 counties with the highest composite flood risk scores include 6,444 schools serving nearly 4 million serving students.”
The organization reported at the time that 4,106 schools are located in the flood zone with an annual probability of 0.2%, and that about 2.5 million students attend those schools. Schools on the Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, Mississippi River corridor and southwestern Arizona are at high risk.
And in California, the PPIC Water Policy Center found that in every county the state has been “declared a flood disaster area several times”, putting schools at risk.
“One in five Californians and more than $580 billion in structures (including content) are vulnerable,” reads a 2017 report from the group.
Please contact Kayla Jimenez at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @kaylajjimenez.