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Wildfires now the leading cause of school closures in California

Wednesday, September 18th 2019, 1:05 pm - More than 21,000 days have been lost due to wildfires in California since 2002.

Wildfires are now the leading cause of school closures in California, following a "record year" for shutdowns in 2018, according to a new, three-part report from CalMatters.

It was the "third significant spike" in fire-related closures in four years, according to the paper.

The study analyzed school state school closures between 2002 and 2019 and found that nearly two-thirds of shutdowns during that period were due to wildfires, accounting for 21,100 lost days.

“If we’re supposed to teach 180 days and we keep erasing five or six days out of every school calendar, we’re not giving our students a competitive educational advantage that they deserve,” Steve Herrington, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education, told reporters.

"That to me is a direct impact of climate change issues that we’re dealing with."

CalMatters closures

Other natural disasters, including other weather-related incidents, are the second leading cause of California school closures.

While losses of 10 school days or more due to wildfire were rare in California prior to 2015, it is now an annual occurrence, according to the report.

"The amount of missed school is key, according to education research," reads an excerpt from the report.

"A 2015 study of math scores in wintery Massachusetts found that the occasional snow day didn’t impact performance, especially if the closure was one teachers could prepare for, but longer absences take a significant toll on learning. The challenges after a natural disaster also can remain overwhelming for educators even after schools reopen, as districts severely impacted by fires ... have learned."

CalMatters map2

The paper points to the month-long closure of Paradise United School District in 2018, which was forced to shut its doors after a devastating fire, known as the "camp fire" left many in the area homeless.

Smoke from the camp fire contributed to poor air quality several jurisdictions away, prompting shutdowns in 180 districts, impacting more than 1 million students.


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