Nov. 4 marked the first day back for students in the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District after a week-long absence due to the public safety power shutoffs and mandatory evacuations from the Kincade fire. Technology High School staff, along with help from parents, the PTSA, and the Associated Student Body, welcomed students back with a special lunchtime barbeque.
“I don’t know how everyone was affected, but I know that when you have a minute to blow off steam, and have fun, and have the community come together, you feel like you matter and it helps to heal,” says Dawn Mawhinney, Principal of Technology High School.
Besides hamburgers and hot dogs being barbequed by local Rohnert Park Public Safety Officers, parent Ida Gibson brought in nine, 5-week old yellow laboratory puppies to comfort students; the school counselor was on hand and had leaflets available about coping skills, grounding techniques and deep breathing; students could write thank you notes to first responders in the student center; and music was playing and badminton nets and ping pong tables were set up to give the lunchtime a convivial and welcoming feel.
Like the rest of the schools in the district, Nov. 1 was already a planned teacher professional day so in reality only four days were lost in the school calendar. In the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District there are no days built into the calendar to account for emergencies or other unexpected school closures, so the district will need to apply for a waiver through the California Department of Education to keep the school year as is. It is yet too soon to determine what the outcome of the waiver will be, but due to the state governor declaring a state of emergency, there is a good chance that the school year will not be extended.
“The district plans to file for a waiver from the state for allowance of attendance and instructional time due to emergency conditions,” says Robert Marical, Chief Business Official for the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District. “If the waiver is approved, state funding will not be impacted for the district nor will the instructional days be required to be made up. This is similar to what other school districts that were impacted will be doing. It generally takes a few months before we are notified if we are approved.”
In retrospect, most faculty and staff agreed that the weeklong school closure was a wise decision due to many teachers being evacuated, the public safety power shutoffs and due to poor air quality, most of the week. 40 percent of Technology High School’s student population lives outside the district, and indeed, many students had the fire come very close to their homes.
“More of our students were evacuated than in any other school in Rohnert Park,” says Mawhinney. “We have a lot of kids that live in Windsor, in West County and in Santa Rosa. I was in the classes today and there were groups of students in each class that had been evacuated.”
Technology High School senior Rik van Hoorn had been evacuated from his home in Windsor for five days. Even after returning, his family did not have gas for several more days and just obtained it back the night before school started again.
“The house was about 50 degrees - we were always covered with blankets!” says van Hoorn. “It feels like it was a weird dream. I’m happy to have the normal sort of flow again [since restarting school] and I’m grateful for the regularity it brings back to my life. The fire was right next to our house. I know a lot of firefighters rallied to protect our neighborhood in Windsor. We are really grateful for that.”