Schools and students still in limbo after Valley Fire

CALISTOGA, Calif. (KTVU) -- The Valley Fire that raced through Middletown, Cobb and the surrounding region still rages on, but these small Northern California towns are already thinking ahead because they have to.

With the school year looming, many parents who live in the fire area don't know when and where they're children will be back in class, especially with so many homes destroyed.

"I'm just hoping that the community itself can just connect and come together and try to help everyone. So, you know, I just hope for that," said Anthony Musial, a Middletown parent who lost his home.

"I believe in all kinds of creative ways of addressing education. So I think it's an opportunity to do something a little bit differently and for the children to have learning groups. Perhaps for school days to be shorter and for a little more independent study to happen," said Middletown parent Lisa Kaplan.

Brock Falkenberg is Lake County Schools Superintendent.

"Schools in a Lakeport, Upper Lake and Lucerne will be opening tomorrow. Any student who is doubled up in one of those communities or in a shelter in one of those communities can begin school in those communities tomorrow," said Falkenberg.

What of the kids sheltered at the fairgrounds in Calistoga who've lost their homes?

"We’re currently working with the shelter in Calistoga and the Calistoga Unified School District to put together a plan for certain kids that may be displaced into that community," said Falkenberg.

But parent Patrice Conklin is not so worried.

"I've always been a really big fan of life experiences too, and they're really getting a lot here. They're really learning a lot here and the books will wait," said Conklin.

Amazingly, the schools in the fire area, Middletown and Cobb suffered little or no damage.

"Short of a miracle, I would also say it has to do with strict building codes for schools and the kind of materials that have us use. But really, I can only attribute this to a miracle," said Middletown Schools Superintendent Catherine Stone. 

They could re-open very quickly.

"I've heard that we could have power by the end of the week.  We're certainly hoping so.  We need power so we can bring our infrastructure back up and we need people.  Most of all, we need people," said Stone.

Falkenberg agreed that children will need the structure of school to help them recover from the wildfire.

"We start to establish a sense of normalcy for families and kids and for kids, part of that normalcy is getting back into school," said Falkenberg. "It's what kids do for 6 hours a day; almost every kid. And they come here and they see their friends and they see their teachers. They know their community is still here and they'll have a routine and we feed them. And we also have counselors and array of other people who will be there for them."

But since so many teachers and staff have lost their homes, all the districts will do what it takes, be that bringing kids to different schools, or sending teachers to the understaffed ones.

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