Education

Power shutoff forces school closures in Sierra foothills, leaving parents scrambling

Very little remains of a structure on a property along Lone Tree Road near Loma Rica following the Cascade fire in Yuba County. Cal Fire on Tuesday blamed PG&E for the deadly fire.
Very little remains of a structure on a property along Lone Tree Road near Loma Rica following the Cascade fire in Yuba County. Cal Fire on Tuesday blamed PG&E for the deadly fire. Sacramento Bee file

An intentional power shutoff by Pacific Gas and Electric Company affecting thousands across Northern California led to more than a dozen school closures in the Sierra foothills, forcing some parents to find childcare options with short notice.

PG&E announced the potential outages Saturday night as high winds predicted to reach speeds of 50 mph increased fire risks in the area. The “public safety power shut off,” which went into effect Sunday night, is the first time the utility has cut electricity as a preemtive measure to combat fire risks.

As alerts from PG&E reached customers across the Sierra foothills, school administrators on Sunday evening and early Monday morning made the call to close schools and afterschool programs in El Dorado, Lake and Calaveras county, among others. Amador County public schools are off this week for a planned October break.

In El Dorado county, 11 school districts with a total of 42 schools were closed because of the power shutdown. Superintendents and officials drove to schools Sunday to do visual confirmations that the power was out before making their final call to close, those interviewed by The Bee said.

Without heat or food service options, keeping schools open would have been both impractical and unsafe, officials said.

Some districts have placed dry ice in refrigerators and freezers to prevent food in kitchens from spoiling, Monsma said, and the district is keeping a close eye on PG&E updates.

Some parents expressed frustration with the short notice.

“We didn’t find out until like 10 o’clock at night and honestly it would’ve been more helpful if I was a working parent to know sooner than that,” said Emily Lotempio, a stay-at-home mom whose daughter is a fourth grader at Sierra School in the Placerville Union School District.

Deputy Superintendent Kevin Monsma at El Dorado County Office of Education said he appreciated that PG&E was trying to be “thoughtful” and ensure the safety of the neighborhood, but understands frustration among parents.

“We want places where kids can be safe and learn, and that’s hard to do without power,” he said.

Mark Campbell, superintendent of Calaveras Unified School District, said his district understood the predicament of parents but were just in a “wait and see mode” until power was restored.

Many private child care facilities and preschools also closed.

Country Kids Daycare & Preschool, located in Diamond Springs, was one of the only daycares in the area that stayed open and had power Monday, according to its director Ashlee Springer. Calls to half a dozen daycares in the area where outages are reported were unanswered.

“We did have a lot of parents call (asking) if they can bring drops-ins today,” Springer said. “But we just don’t have the staff. It was short notice.”

Springer added that she plans to have additional staff Tuesday to accommodate more children should the power shutoff continue.

PG&E on Monday evening announced that power would be restored to about 70 percent of customers impacted by the shutdown by midnight.

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