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School Districts, Families Impacted by Colorado Wildfires

Once again, just as the 2020-2021 school year gears up and schools start to open for in-person education, unforeseen conditions stand as a barrier to school district operations, this time in the state of Colorado.

Currently, the northern half of Colorado is being affected by several wildfires. Some of the most impactful include the CalWood fire, Cameron Peak fire, East Troublesome fire, Lefthand Canyon fire, and the Williams Fork fire. The year’s fire season has already brought two of the largest recorded wildfires in Colorado, leading to evacuations and extensive damage. However, things don’t appear to be slowing down.

The Cameron Peak Fire is now the largest wildfire in state history, stretching 322 square miles. The fire, which started on Aug. 13, is more than halfway contained but is continuing to spread southeast toward the foothills west of Fort Collins and Loveland, Colorado.

Poudre School District (PSD) which serves about 27,000 students across 47 schools and several charter schools and is the ninth-largest school district in the state, encompasses communities including Fort Collins.

As of late last week, Madeline Noblett, the executive director of communications for PSD, told School Transportation News that the district has identified more than 300 K-12 students affected by the Cameron Peak fire. District officials have been in close contact with the families and are in constant communication to see what support the students and families need, she added.

“Families and staff are displaced but they are together,” Mountain Schools Principal Tom Schachet said. “They struggle, but they continue to climb. They have unknown futures, but they never lose hope. As a school community, we will continue to push forward in providing a constant in their education and we will continue to support our families the best way we know how – to be there for them every day and to continue to be stronger together.”

Noblett said that many families have moved back to the basics of living. She said food and shelter have become their priorities and many are leaning heavily upon the Red Cross.

The fire was estimated to be about two miles south of Stove Prairie Elementary School, which is in phase three, a hybrid model of education, as part of the district’s reopening plan. Students are scheduled to be in school on Mondays and Wednesdays but remote the remaining days. Noblett said early last week the district shifted to remote education following a mandatory evacuation notice issued for an area that impacted the school.

“It is possible it will remain in remote education for the foreseeable future due to the fire’s proximity to the schools,” she added.

Staff was also evacuated from Red Feather Lakes Elementary, as they were working in the building when an evacuation notice for the area was announced. Students have so far been 100 percent remote learning at that school and were not in the building at the time of the evacuations.

Several other schools in the district remain open at this writing. School Transportation News followed up with Noblett on if school buses were used in evacuation efforts but has not heard back at this writing.

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Meanwhile, Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) closed two of its schools in the mountains, Gold Hill Elementary School and Jamestown Elementary School, as a precautionary measure to the impact of the Lefthand Canyon fire and the CalWood fire. The Lefthand Canyon fire has currently spread 0.71 square miles and is 4 percent contained, while the CalWood fire has burned roughly 15 miles and is 21 percent contained.

The fires started over the weekend, while students at these mountain schools went back to in-person learning on Sept. 29, for phase two of the district’s reopening plan. Randy Barber, chief communications officer for the district, added that both of the schools that closed are small schools.

Barber said the principals of each school have reached out to all families to offer them the ability to either learn remotely or to attended other district elementary schools until their primary school reopens.

BVSD has been updating its website with information regarding the fires and impact on the surrounding communities.

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