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Los Angeles schools could lose tens of millions of dollars for fire-related closures — but state will likely cover the bill  

Mike Szymanski | December 7, 2017



SYLMAR, CA - DECEMBER 5: Firefighters battle the Creek Fire as it burns near a church along Foothill Boulevard in Sylmar on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The fire started at about 3:42 a.m. in the area of Gold Creek and Little Tujunga roads and has burned more than 11,000 acres. (Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Firefighters battle the Creek Fire in Sylmar. (Photo by Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

*UPDATED — Schools to reopen Monday, plus lunch and support sites available on Friday and Saturday.

More than one-third of LA Unified schools closed this week because of raging fires in the San Fernando Valley and the Sepulveda Pass. 

No students in all those seats could mean a loss of tens of millions of dollars in state funding, but LA Unified is requesting a waiver that’s usually granted during natural disasters.

A total of 384 schools closed on Thursday and Friday because of poor air quality and traffic issues when freeways were shut down. On Tuesday when the fires began, about a dozen schools in the Valley were relocated to nearby high schools for the day. Starting Wednesday, about 50 schools closed, and that number grew as the fires blazed out of control.

All of the schools in the Valley, in both Local District Northeast and Local District Northwest, were closed, as well as 16 schools in Local District West and 50 independent charter schools. They are all listed on the district’s website, along with a map of the schools and the fire area.

On Friday afternoon, the district announced that all schools will reopen Monday. The decision to reopen schools was based on improved air quality and the lifting of mandatory evacuations that affecting school communities, according to a district email.

“L.A. Unified crews will be working through the weekend to install new air filters at closed schools and ensure that facilities are ready for teaching and learning to resume,” it stated. “Some outdoor activities may be limited until air quality returns to normal levels.” Updated information and additional resources are available at lausd.net.

To make up for the lost dollars around attendance, The state of California supports districts impacted by a natural disaster by allowing them to apply for a waiver of the 180-day instructional requirement,” said Barbara Jones, of the district’s communications department. The waiver will allow students to not have to make up the school days, because 180 days are required by state law.

The district will also apply to receive funding related to the loss of attendance, which will use attendance for a comparable period in the past. “This is particularly important because it applies not only to schools that are actually closed, but also to nearby campuses that show a drop in attendance of more than 2 percent,” Jones said in an email.

The district applies to the Los Angeles County Office of Education for the 180-day waiver and the attendance funding. Once the county approves, the request goes to the California Department of Education and then to the State Board of Education.

Schools closed with red dots, fire areas circled in red. (LAUSD)

“Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian has already spoken to state Superintendent Tom Torlakson, who has been very supportive of the district’s wildfire response,” Jones said.

The superintendent and board president Mónica García sent a letter explaining the school closures to Torlakson, and he responded with an email saying “Los Angeles has our full support.”

In December 2015, when the district closed for a day because of an email threat, Torlakson said the state would compensate the district for the lost money the schools would suffer for lack of attendance. At that time, losing one day of attendance districtwide would have cost $29 million.

The National Weather Service said the high winds will taper off by Saturday; schools are expected to reopen Monday.

Although all LA Unified schools were closed in the San Fernando Valley, many private schools and the Burbank Unified and Glendale Unified school districts kept their schools open on Thursday and Friday, but all of them restricted outdoor activities.

Staff did not report to LA Unified’s closed schools, and they will be paid for the days the schools are closed, Jones said.

The district is also documenting costs related to the fires such as extra supplies, staff time, and overtime that will be submitted to the state and federal governments if additional relief is provided, Jones said.

There have been no reports of injuries or damage at any of the school sites.

On Friday and Saturday, LA Unified will be serving meals at three sites to help families affected by school closures caused by the wildfires. The centers will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 8 and 9 at Reseda High School and Byrd and Palms Middle schools.

City recreation centers are also open extended hours Friday, with additional activities to support students from closed schools.

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