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Children Return to School 3 Weeks After California Wildfire

With hugs, teachers and a touch of anxiety, thousands of children returned to school and some semblance of routine Monday, three weeks after Northern California's deadly wildfire destroyed their homes and classrooms.

Posted: Dec 3, 2018 11:57 AM

By JONATHAN J. COOPER , Associated Press

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — With hugs, teachers and a touch of anxiety, thousands of children returned to school and some semblance of routine Monday, three weeks after Northern California's deadly wildfire destroyed their homes and classrooms.

Schools in Butte County have been closed since Nov. 8, when the blaze swept through the towns of Paradise, Concow and Magalia in the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century. At least 88 people were killed and dozens remain unaccounted for.

About 31,000 students in all went back to school. Many of them are going to class in other buildings because their schools were damaged or destroyed, or are inaccessible inside evacuation zones.

Some families have left the state. Others are staying with friends or relatives, too far from the fire-stricken area to drive in every day.

But nearly all the teachers are returning to provide a familiar and comfortable face to the children who are able to make it to class.

"It's important that the kids are able to stay together and have some sort of normalcy in the crazy devastation that we're having now," said Jodi Seaholm, whose daughter Mallory is a third-grader.

Mallory underwent radiation in October to treat a recurrence of brain cancer and showed no fear, Seaholm said, but "this situation with her house burning down has absolutely devastated her."

Counselors brought in from around the country were in nearly every classroom Monday to help children who were distressed by their escape through a burning town and the loss of their homes, Paradise Superintendent Michelle John said at a celebratory news conference. Many of the teachers lost their homes as well.

"Our kids are traumatized," John said. "Their families are traumatized."

Two neighboring school districts have allowed children from Paradise to take over available space. Kids who previously went to Paradise Elementary are going to school in Oroville, while children from Ponderosa Elementary are going to a school in Durham.

Most of Paradise High School survived but is inaccessible.

The district doesn't have space yet for intermediate and high school classrooms, so for the 13 days before the holiday break begins, those students will learn through independent study. They will have access to online assignments and a drop-in center at the Chico mall where they can get help from teachers or see classmates.

But schoolwork will probably be secondary to dealing with trauma and reconnecting with friends, said Paradise High Principal Loren Lighthall.

"They don't have their church, they don't have their school, they don't have their work, they don't have their friends. They don't have any of that stuff and we're asking them to write five-paragraph essays?" Lighthall said. "It's just unreasonable at this point. We're going to do it, but we're going to be super flexible with what we require."

Marissa Nypl is living with her family at her husband's coworker's home in West Sacramento, which is 90 miles (145 kilometers) from her 10-year-old daughter's temporary school in Durham, until they can move into a rental home much closer.

It's too far to drive every day, but Nypl wanted to be sure her daughter was there to be with her peers on the first day back.

"The school's going to be the only thing they have to latch on to to feel like something's still routine," she said.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 3967

Reported Deaths: 148
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah105258
Marion91425
Washington69817
Clackamas29610
Deschutes1200
Linn1159
Umatilla1123
Polk9610
Lane672
Yamhill667
Jackson600
Benton555
Clatsop450
Klamath410
Coos310
Malheur280
Josephine251
Douglas250
Jefferson240
Wasco181
Columbia160
Hood River120
Morrow120
Lincoln90
Tillamook60
Crook60
Curry60
Union60
Wallowa20
Sherman10
Grant10
Harney10
Baker10
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 99387

Reported Deaths: 3819
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles478452145
Riverside7139303
San Diego6797249
Orange5578131
San Bernardino4567176
Alameda298693
Santa Clara2675139
San Francisco239940
San Mateo190482
Kern187629
Tulare177179
Santa Barbara155112
Fresno148222
Contra Costa135337
Imperial135224
Sacramento131056
Ventura91230
San Joaquin77133
Kings6882
Stanislaus65928
Sonoma5154
Solano45520
Monterey4298
Marin41714
Merced2687
San Luis Obispo2631
Santa Cruz2002
Yolo19822
Placer1889
Napa1093
Humboldt942
Madera852
El Dorado780
San Benito762
Sutter422
Nevada411
Butte400
Del Norte400
Shasta364
Mono341
Yuba281
Mendocino220
Inyo191
Mariposa161
Lake140
Calaveras140
Glenn120
Amador100
Siskiyou61
Colusa50
Plumas40
Lassen40
Tuolumne30
Tehama31
Alpine20
Trinity10
Sierra10
Unassigned00
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