Most Sacramento-area schools plan to stay open during storm

School maintenance staff are clearing gutters, sweeping up leaves and filling sandbags in preparation for Thursday’s big storm, but Sacramento area school districts say they plan to stay open – for now.

A strong weather system is expected to hit Northern California Wednesday night and continue until Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service. The storm could drop 3 inches of rain in Sacramento, and winds are expected to be fierce Thursday morning. Residents are being told to prepare for widespread power outages and falling tree limbs.

San Francisco, Oakland and Novato school districts in the Bay Area have announced closures Thursday, citing concerns about students having transportation problems and campuses potentially being understaffed, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Schools in Glenn County are closed as well.

But Sacramento-area districts plan to hold classes.

“We do not plan to close schools unless there is significant damage to the campus or prolonged power or water outages,” said Trent Allen, spokesman for the San Juan Unified School District.

Natomas Unified officials sent a note to parents: “We’re preparing for the storm, we’re being vigilant and cautious, but we want to reassure families that we have no plans to close schools. We want to keep campuses open and students learning, unless or until circumstances dictate otherwise.”

Twin Rivers Unified sent automated calls the last two days telling parents that school would be open.

Many administrators across the Sacramento region, however, are prepared to change course depending on weather and road conditions early Thursday morning.

“There will be a lot of dialogue going on at 4 and 5 a.m. in the morning,” said Placer County schools chief Gayle Garbolino-Mojica. “This happened with the King fire. There were conference calls at 10 p.m. and 4 a.m in the morning.”

Though Sacramento area public school districts say their traditional campuses will remain open, a handful of charter and private schools are planning to close, according to parents. St. Mark’s Lutheran School in Citrus Heights sent notices to parents today that classes will be canceled Thursday.

The California Montessori Project, a Sacramento-based K-8 public charter network with 2,400 students, will close its six campuses and all office operations on Thursday but plans regular school hours on Friday.

Jacky Murray, who works in network technology for the schools, said Executive Director Gary Bowman made the decision to close the campuses and other operations for the safety of students, parents and about 350 staff members. The system has schools in Sacramento, Orangevale, Carmichael, Elk Grove and Shingle Springs.

The Catholic Diocese of Sacramento says all of its schools will remain open Thursday, though officials will monitor conditions.

Stephen Repsher, headmaster at Sacramento Country Day School, said parents have been told to expect an email at 6 a.m. Thursday and Friday alerting them as to whether school will be canceled. He and other administrators will be looking at wind velocity, traffic problems, the amount of rain and flooding, and power outages to determine if school should take place.

“If there is any doubt, I will cancel school,” Repsher said. “I want to make sure everyone is safe.”

Getting students to school safely and on time is a concern.

“The big thing is busing,” said Garbolina-Mojica. “Will it be safe for buses or other transportation to school?”

San Juan Unified officials expect delays in bus travel times. “(We) are asking families to remain patient,” Allen said.

Parents may be called to pick up kids midday if power outages hit schools. “The safety of our students and employees will be paramount,” said Garbolino-Mojica. “I’ve told them if we lose power once, we are calling it a day.”

Sending kids home early creates another set of problems. Parents have to change schedules and traverse treacherous roadways to bring their kids home.

“Sometimes being tucked safely in their classrooms” is the safer option, Repsher said. “We do concern ourselves with getting the children home safely. At some point we may release them early. A lot depends on the conditions.”

Many districts are considering canceling after-school activities Thursday. Sacramento City Unified’s website warns parents to check with their child’s school to see if after-school activities have been canceled. Sacramento Country Day has already canceled an annual parents-girls volleyball game and a staff holiday party set for Thursday.

Officials with Woodland Joint Unified have been meeting with city and county officials since Monday to prepare for the storm, said Superintendent Maria Armstrong. She said there is concern about flooded roadways and schools in flood zones, particularly in rural areas where agricultural runoff already causes problems.

Top brass at the Placer County Office of Education and the county’s Office of Emergency Services have been on conference calls throughout the week to discuss storm plans, as well as the expected strength of the wind and the possibility of power outages. Education leaders are concerned about mudslides in Foresthill, which has wide swaths of land burned by the King  fire.

In the meantime, school maintenance crews are working hard to ensure schools are ready for the worst.

Twin Rivers Unified’s maintenance staff spent Tuesday filling 158 sandbags to deliver to district schools, said district spokesman Zenobia Gerald. The district also is dusting off generators for schools in areas prone to power outages.

“Everybody is ready,” Gerald said.

Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert. Loretta Kalb contributed to this report.

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