- As they enter a new school year, teachers and students in the Paradise Unified School District in California are still recovering after the devastating Camp Fire last year damaged eight of the district’s nine schools, destroying four of them. But the larger impact has been on the school community as 86 people in the area died from the fire, most students and many teachers lost homes in the fire, and displacement has cut the number of students attending this year to roughly one-third of its past population, EdSource reports.
- As school leaders struggle to repair and open the remaining facilities to accommodate students, they are also working with a reduced workforce. Only 130 of the 200 teachers originally working in the district remain after attrition, early retirement offers, and exits to other districts amid fears of layoffs after the fire. Five school administrators also left the district, as did 68 of the 200 classified workers, and while the budget remains stable, it is expected to be cut by more than half next year based on student attendance figures.
- The district has also hired an additional counselor for each school to help students and staff members who are still dealing with the impact of losing family, friends, homes and schools after last year’s fire.
School leaders need to prepare for the impact of natural disasters, but, in reality, they can never be fully prepared with the devastating impact these disasters cause. Disasters can come from many sources including hurricanes, hailstorms, and wildfires. Because many of these disasters tend to be hurricane-related, they also tend to be near the beginning of the school year when hurricane season is at its height, leaving school leaders to deal with the impact for the remainder of the year and, sometimes, for years to come.
But there are ways that school leaders can prepare as much as possible for impending disaster so the impact will be lessened, and classes can get back on track in a timely fashion. Finding the right insurance for schools is an important consideration, especially in disaster-prone areas. And, because each school district faces different potential risks, it is important to work with local emergency planning organizations in coordinating potential responses.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency also recommends that school districts set up an incident command structure to be used in cases of emergency. Each school also needs its own coordinated plan of action during emergency situations so that teachers are aware of what is expected of them in times of crisis. Coordination with Salvation Army and American Red Cross units in the area is also important as these organizations not only help schools prepare for and respond to disasters, but also because schools are often used as shelters when disasters strike.
School leaders also consider the emotional impact of natural disasters, but schools often lack enough counselors to respond to these situations. While rebuilding schools is important after a disaster, school leaders are first concerned with providing students and staff members with the support they need to return to normalcy.