By November, the Napa Valley Unified School District usually has published its calendar for the next academic year. But no calendar for 2020-21 has yet appeared – and the wildfires and mass power cutoffs that have struck the county in recent years may be the reason why.
At NVUSD’s board meeting Thursday, district leaders advised local families not to expect a new list of teaching and vacation days until January, as NVUSD ponders adjusting next school year’s schedule to more easily make up instructional time lost to public emergencies.
The announcement follows three consecutive years of weather-related disruptions in the Napa area – lengthy school shutdowns caused by the 2017 North Bay wildfires and smoke from the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, followed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s public-safety power shutdowns last month when severe winds threatened to topple power lines and ignite more blazes.
“We’re looking for some ways to build in some cushion for disruptions,” Dana Page, NVUSD’s assistant superintendent for human resources, told the district board.
NVUSD, which operates public schools in Napa, American Canyon and Yountville, has endured a string of shutdowns unprecedented in recent memory – and concentrated in the early months of the school year.
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In August 2014, all campuses were closed for two days after the South Napa earthquake. The wildfires of October 2017 brought schools across the Napa Valley to a halt for two weeks, amid historically dense and unhealthy smoke that forced many residents to don protective masks or avoid going outdoors altogether. Windblown smoke from the November 2018 firestorm that leveled most of Paradise drifted into Napa and led to another canceled school day, which came just before NVUSD’s scheduled one-week break for Thanksgiving.
In the future, one NVUSD tactic may be to mark several vacation days during the spring as provisional, to be turned into teaching days if enough school time in the fall semester is lost to fire, smoke or blackouts, according to Page. Still undecided is whether vacation time would be deducted from students’ spring break – a practice carried out by many school districts in the eastern U.S. that shut down during heavy snow – or from other days in the second half of the school year, she said.
As the risk of wildfire and blackout threatens to become a fact of Napa Valley life, educators need to ensure that students are not shortchanged in the fall when that semester already is the shorter one, trustee Joe Schunk said. “The fall is already shorter than our spring, yet the fall takes the brunt of smoke or power shutdowns,” he said.
Schunk pointed to more radical solutions being proposed by educators in Sonoma County, where the Kincade Fire broke out Oct. 23 and forced evacuations in Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and other communities.
At a Nov. 8 meeting with state schools Superintendent Tony Thurmond, directors of various Sonoma County districts floated possible steps including summer school, longer school days and a year-round schedule alternating nine weeks of class with three weeks off, the Healdsburg Tribune reported.