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School Starts Again For Thousands Of Students Displaced By Camp Fire


In Butte County, Calif., students have been out of school ever since the deadly Camp Fire ravaged the area in early November forcing schools to close. Now with the fire gone and the smoke dissipated, more than 30,000 students are headed back to class. Michelle Wiley of member station KQED reports.

MICHELLE WILEY, BYLINE: Outside of the new Paradise Elementary School in nearby Oroville, kids bolt from their cars to greet the teachers and staff waiting for them. The school, which was given to them by the Oroville school district, is decorated with birds of paradise flowers and colorfully painted rocks that read, Paradise Strong.


WILEY: Students from Butte County have been out of school for almost a month, ever since the deadly Camp Fire started at the beginning of November and left many of their school buildings seriously damaged or completely destroyed. So students are being relocated to schools across Butte County. Ten-year-old Charlotte Merz is attending a new charter school and is the only student from Paradise in her class.

CHARLOTTE MERZ: Honestly, I think it went really well. Everybody was really accepting.

WILEY: On the morning of the blaze, Merz and her classmates at Paradise's Ponderosa Elementary were loaded onto a bus that drove through flames to get them out. Paradise High School students will have a whole different experience. Inside the Chico Mall, just across from a Dick's Sporting Goods store, the school district has set up a sort of high school hub. Students from Paradise High are standing in a long line that almost stretches to the food court. They'll reintegrate their teachers and pick up school supplies, including a new laptop. Their new high school will be entirely online. The mall all hub is where they can meet with teachers and catch up with friends. Bryce Russell is a junior.

BRYCE RUSSELL: Actually, I've seen a lot of my friends that normally I don't get to see 'cause now I live so far away. I live in Biggs. So now I get to come here and see everybody, and it's really cool.

WILEY: Butte County officials say these are just temporary solutions while they work to find a permanent location for their students. For NPR News, I'm Michelle Wiley in Chico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michelle Wiley