HomeEditors' PicksCUSD plans return to virtual learning Monday after local wildfires lead to week-long closure

CUSD plans return to virtual learning Monday after local wildfires lead to week-long closure


Published Aug. 27, 2020

Following eight days of school closure across the district from Aug. 19 through Aug. 28, Carmel Unified School District hopes to re-open and return to virtual school on Monday.

“The conversation we had was for us to move forward with school beginning Monday, unless something dramatic changes within the next 24 to 48 hours,” Carmel High School principal Jonathan Lyons said on Tuesday. “We are shifting our focus from the generalized public to the 45 to 50 kids who definitely need our support.”

The decision to cancel school for the current week was made following a 48-hour period with storm and evacuation warnings from Cachagua to Quail Lodge. 

“The leadership team, including all of the principals and the cabinet members, met Sunday morning, on a two-hour zoom call to make the decision about the week coming up,” interim superintendent Trish Dellis explained. “We found that we had about a quarter of our staff members and estimated that about a third of our students were displaced. At that point, there were still red flag warnings and the possibility of another storm coming through was present.”

When the district communicated with CalFire leading up to the decision to cancel school, they were told that evacuations would begin Tuesday outside of the Carmel area and continue through Wednesday finishing with Zone 19, west on Carmel Valley Road from Pinetree Lane to Rancho San Carlos. Yet most evacuation orders, Zone 17, 18, 20, 21, and portions of 19 were all lifted at the same time Monday morning. At that point, the decision for the week ahead had already been made as the administration was under the impression the families would be returning beginning late Tuesday and continuing throughout the week.

Principal Lyons explained that a virtual classroom offers flexibility with schedules that would allow for no additional school days to be added on to the school year, saying “there was no conversation about extending the school year at this point.”

CUSD will be applying to the state to waive the missed days due to natural disaster, Dellis added, although how many days will be waived is still unanswered. 

“These fires are much, much larger and are affecting many more people than any of the fires we have dealt with in the past,” Dellis explained. As for the possibility of unaffected district schools reopening this week, she said, “The idea of having one school going while others closed didn’t seem fair to everyone. It felt we would be saying ‘We’re going to move on without you’ to all of the people who were and are displaced or having issues in relation to the fire. We are thinking of equity of access to education here, so the amount of people affected made the difference for us.”

CHS recognized that, including those in warning zones, there were approximately 1,000 student district-wide who were displaced at one point and had a total of at least 12 staff members confirming displacement. The increased factors as a result of being off campus, including the inability to account for some students ultimately led to the decision to use a week to regroup. 

“My son didn’t even grab his Chromebook,” district human resource specialist Kristen Quilty, a mother of three, shared. “The process is mentally exhausting, and my son absolutely needs this time to regroup after living remotely in a trailer and in constant fear of our house burning.” 

The Quiltys left their home on Wednesday and were not allowed to return until Tuesday evening.

Tularcitos Elementary School is most closely associated with families living in Carmel Valley and Cachagua, so their approach to this week looks different than the approach of schools closer to town. Principal Ryan Peterson explained that he has had to reach out to families to understand who has been impacted and how they have been impacted and from there figure out how he can get those families internet as internet in Cachagua is projected to be out until mid-September. 

“We are taking this week to reach out to families and see what level people were impacted by the fire and to work with them to figure out if they have places to go, as well as return servers onto campus,” Peterson said. “We have a number of families that have completely lost their homes. There are families that were able to save their houses, but who have lost their wells or water tanks. There are families who have been evacuated and are starting to return home.”

Additionally, data servers at Tularcitos, Carmel Valley High School and Carmelo School had to be removed due to fear of damage from smoke and heat. Such servers house the data, memory and internet access of campus systems, so before school can begin again, these must be returned to each campus. This is occurring this week.

Meanwhile, students within the Carmel River Elementary School region were not displaced due to fires, although some staff members were. 

A mother of two Carmel River School students, Noelle Micek sympathizes with families who were put in the face of danger and with the administration team faced with logistical issues surrounding evacuees. 

“In a natural disaster, you have to be conscious of the mindset that people’s safety comes first and foremost,” Micek said. “Knowing that there were students and teachers affected by the fires and mandatory evacuations means that we need to ensure their well being first. To me, going forward, it seems like less a matter of fairness between campuses and more a question of continuity for the go forward. Keeping school holidays, teacher work days and the final day of school consistent throughout the district seems like the best approach.”

Regarding the ultimate decision to shut down CUSD operations this week, the CHS principal said, “Because we are in a remote school environment and were experiencing high levels of uncertainty, we needed to make a K-12 decision in unity.” Lyons explained, “To give ourselves a fighting chance at getting a rhythm, it is best to start fresh on Monday. We want to be consistent and take the long approach.” 

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