North Bay

Emotions Run High as Teachers, Students Prepare to Resume Classes in Santa Rosa

Children in the North Bay are getting ready to return to school for the first time since the wildfires ignited, devastating most everything in their path.

In Santa Rosa, teachers and administrators were able to reenter campuses Wednesday, on the heels of an intensive clean-up. There were tears and hugs as teachers – some of whom have lost their homes – shared stories and began putting together lessons, thinking of welcoming back students whose lives may have been upended.

Seventh-grader Alexa Yáñez Valdez said she enjoys her time at Chops Teen Center where daily visits have nearly doubled since the fire. Now, though, she’s considering what middle school will be like.

“I am happy to go back to school,” Alexa admitted. Her family was forced to evacuate their home, which did not burn.

Alexa is concerned about students who have lost everything.

“It just shocks me about the fire ... it was really close to our house too,” she said.

Like dozens of other Santa Rosa City Schools, Piner High School has been closed since Oct. 9. Some schools plan to reopen on Friday, while others will do so on Monday.

Santa Rosa High School District Superintendent Diann Kitamura said one school burned down and a school farm site was damaged.

“The soot, the smoke, the ash went everywhere,” she said.

Twenty-four schools needed to be cleaned. Administrators learned that 77 staff members lost their homes, while 900 students lived in areas that are now burned. It remains unknown exactly how many student’s homes were reduced to embers, Kitamura said.

“We need to see their faces on Friday morning and Monday morning” to determine if they are OK and, if not, what their needs are, she said.

History teacher Zoe Miller lost her home. “We were one of the first to go,” she said.

She is now renting a house and returned to Piner High School on Wednesday.

“I walked into my classroom and I cried,” said an emotional Miller. “I am really looking forward to seeing my students, my kids.”

Backpacks and supplies are ready for those who need them. The school district also plans to have substitutes teachers lined up, in case teachers need a break. Counselors are available and displaced students will be given free lunch.

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