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 SDCOE Supports Districts Affected by Fires

When a disaster strikes, such as the recent wildfires, it can affect every aspect of a school, including the students, employees, facilities, infrastructure, and programs.

From providing information to parents about how to help their children cope with a disaster to making resources available to continue day-to-day operations, the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) works with the 42 districts throughout the county in a variety of ways to help prevent and mitigate some of the problems that can pop up during an emergency.

One of the ways SDCOE supported schools in the recent wildfires was by working with school district administrators to connect them with resources related to student safety and evacuation.

“In a time of crisis you don’t have a lot of time,” said Donald Buchheit, senior director of student support services. “You have to really make decisions quickly and you don’t have a lot of time to research resources. You need another team there for you.”

SDCOE is that team for many districts.

Office of Education personnel also facilitated conversations with the county’s 42 school district superintendents to gather information about school closures and coordinate communication efforts to the media and the public.

The SDCOE website, www.sdcoe.net, became a one-stop shop for school closure information, getting more than five times the typical number of page views during the fires. On May 14, the website got more than 36,000 page views; on May 15, it got more than 42,000.

Even in an emergency situation, staff needs to get paid and that cannot happen without inputting payroll information. For any school districts having difficulty inputting that data because of office closures, the Office of Education offered support and computers at its main campus. The Integrated Technology Services Division also supported districts that lost internet access.

SDCOE’s Risk Management team and Educational Facility Solutions Group provided school districts information about how to safely clean up after a fire, including descriptions of proper safety equipment and procedures. The joint powers authority the Risk Management Unit supports is also helping member districts cover clean-up costs through its insurance program.

In the aftermath, SDCOE’s Student Support Services Unit has crisis support teams that are ready to help adults and children in affected areas.

The unit also has shared important information about how to help students work through any anxiety or emotional distress the fires may have created or aggravated. These are helpful for parents as well as teachers, especially in areas where schools and homes were evacuated or families may have lost their homes.

“When we’re trying to support kids, our first responses are to help reassure them,” said Bob Mueller, a student support services director at SDCOE. “We first focus on reaffirming their safety and reestablishing social support.”

Throughout the year, SDCOE student support services personnel help schools create and update comprehensive safety plans that include procedures for responding to different types of disasters.

“There’s a lot of work that we do all year long to support school districts in preparing for emergencies,” Mueller said.

SDCOE employees will continue to support school personnel regarding ongoing safety plans and procedures, including conversations about what we can learn from our collaboration during the wildfires.

“We’re there at the beginning, during and afterward,” Buchheit said.