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Campuses Close, and Brace for Anguish

S.B. County schools clean up, prepare to aid any students traumatized by fire.

October 28, 2003|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

It's just as well that Hanna Jure's school closed Monday, because the 11-year-old won't be thinking about reading or math any time soon.

Hanna's house burned last weekend in the San Bernardino County Old Fire. On Monday, she had no spare clothes, no bed and no schoolbooks. And Ellie, the tabby she's had since age 5, is missing.

"I can't think, because I'm sad," the sixth-grader said as her family moved into a home they found in a day. "I cry too."

More than 244,000 San Bernardino County students in public and private schools and community colleges missed classes Monday after campuses closed because of fire danger, poor air quality and the anguish of losing more than 400 homes in the community.

The 58,000-student San Bernardino Unified School District, the largest in the county, shut schools Monday and today.

"In the 16 years that I've been here, this is the first time the entire district closed," said Linda Hill, spokeswoman for the district, which is scheduled to reopen Wednesday.

Elementary and secondary schools escaped major fire damage, according to officials. Janitorial and maintenance crews spent Monday cleaning campuses covered in ash and debris.

Administrators, teachers and clerical staff who weren't directly affected by the fires also worked Monday, notifying parents to pick up their children, staffing phone lines and preparing for traumatized students when classes resume.

"We're really concerned about students displaced from their homes," said Hill, adding that the San Bernardino district will have crisis counselors available when it reopens.

In the Rancho Cucamonga area, where blazes have burned for a week, students will review fire safety and share fire stories.

"It's good for them to talk about it and help each other out," said Shawn Judson, superintendent of the Etiwanda School District, which has 11,200 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The district reopens today. Judson said he expects increased absences.

Hanna Jure may miss attending her school, Richardson Prep Hi Middle School in San Bernardino, for the rest of the week. Same goes for her brothers, ages 8 and 14.

For Monday's school closures, San Bernardino County districts could lose $5 million in state money for daily student attendance. Administrators can recoup the revenue by applying for a waiver, since Gov. Gray Davis declared a state of emergency in the county.

But county officials said it's unclear whether districts can get reimbursement for related emergency costs, such as extra substitute teachers and maintenance staffs.

"We advise schools to keep track of all expenses," said Christine McGrew, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools.

Callie Dixson, 10, said Monday she wanted to return to Ramona-Alessandro Elementary School in San Bernardino to see if her friends are OK.

"I don't want anybody to be sad," Callie said. "I want to help them feel better."

On Monday afternoon, Callie packed a picnic lunch -- roast beef sandwiches, Doritos and soda -- for her neighbor friends Arenia and Jasmine Champagnie, 11 and 8.

"I thought it is sunny and it might make us feel better," Callie said, swatting away falling ashes.

But instead of relaxing, the girls recalled the flames that nearly consumed their houses. They spoke of how scared they were to evacuate, and how they sympathize with those who lost homes.

Arenia plans to write a note to her friends who suffered losses.

"I'll try to cheer them up by saying, 'In life, everything won't be perfect, but you can still have a happy life.' "

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