State Superintendent affirms support for schools impacted by wildfires; outlines guidance for distance learning

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond recently affirmed the California Department of Education’s support for schools reeling from the impacts of wildfires burning across the state and said during a virtual news media briefing that the CDE will ensure schools have the flexibility they need to focus first on the health, safety, and well-being of their educators, students, and families.

“Our schools have been dealt extraordinary setbacks during this back-to-school period: a pandemic, a return to mostly virtual learning, blackouts — and now evacuations and school cancellations due to wildfires. Our hearts go out to our students, educators, and families who have lost homes or lost loved ones during this unparalleled crisis,” said Thurmond. “No one ever anticipated that this is what the new school year would look like, and I want our communities to know that we see you, we’re here for you, and we’ve got your back.”

As of Tuesday, the CDE estimated at least 45 schools were in wildfire evacuation zones and tens of thousands of students have been impacted by canceled instruction.

Thurmond encouraged every school district unable to provide distance learning or in-person learning due to recent wildfires or unsafe conditions to file a state waiver when instruction is cancelled due to an emergency. There is no deadline for submitting the waiver, and schools are not facing an immediate loss of funding.

“CDE is here to support our school leaders in this waiver process when the time is right,” he said. “We want you focused right now on the health and safety of your communities, not your paperwork.”

Additionally, state and federal law allows for flexibility in requirements for student meal programs so that schools don’t have to worry about disruptions to service or funding because of a disaster or emergency. More information can be found on the CDE Disaster Relief Guidelines web page.


Distance learning

Even as California counties begin to move off of the state’s coronavirus monitoring list and consider returning to modified versions of in-person instruction, the superintendent said during a recent media briefing that students and families should expect that distance learning will remain part of education in the weeks and months ahead.

To support the continued strengthening of virtual learning, the CDE this week released updated guidance to support educators moving forward.

In the meantime, Chief Deputy Superintendent Stephanie Gregson, Ed.D. said more than 350 teachers from more than 125 school districts have responded to a CDE survey sharing their successes in distance learning. Examples and highlights showcasing the creativity, rigor, structure, and meaningful student and parent connections made through successful distance learning strategies will be published on the CDE website and social media channels in the coming weeks, she said.