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Fire throws Sonora Elementary into disarray

The Sonora Elementary School District Board of Trustees decided in a special meeting Monday that teachers and staff would get at least one day without students after Thanksgiving break to prepare their curriculum and set up their temporary classes following a fire that put at least 15 classrooms out of commission over the weekend. 

The fire is being investigated as suspicious, but no cause has been released. 

School officials have said it started in a garbage can full of debris under the window of a fifth-grade classroom. 

It directly burned the F building, which houses fourth and fifth grades, and smoke damage has affected the adjacent D and E buildings, with sixth through eighth grades.

Many teachers and some parents attended the special meeting in which the fire itself was scarcely discussed. Instead board members, administrators and teachers discussed what was needed to best recover from the fire. 

It was decided that teachers will need at least one day, Monday, without students to prepare lessons and classrooms and may need more. 

Classes are scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

By bringing in portables and converting the school library, Title 1 and art buildings into classrooms, all students will be able to continue school on the Sonora campus, the board agreed. 

The library’s normal services will be halted at least three weeks.

“It’s going to be disruptive,” Superintendent Leigh Shampain said. “Probably the rest of the year disrupted,” he said, explaining teachers, students and staff would have to move at least twice within the school year as portables become available. 

To create room, the kindergarten program has been put on morning and afternoon blocks. The P.M. Club will start an “A.M. Club” to take care of afternoon-block kindergarteners in the morning.

The district will cover parent costs for this service if needed. 

It is unknown yet if F Building can be salvaged. 

Classes had recently gotten a technology boost with iPads, Apple Televisions, smart boards and projectors amounting to about $50,000 per classroom. 

It is unknown how much, if any, of the technology can be salvaged. 

The same goes for books.

ServiceMaster has been contracted to do the cleaning and remains cautious on item salvage predictions, but guarantees buildings D and E cleaned and ready for teaching after the December vacation, according to Shampain. 

The school’s insurance should cover most of the damages and many replacement books have already been ordered, Shampain said. The missed school day will also likely be dismissed by the state for emergency, but may need to be made up at the end of the year. 

An outpouring of support was shown at Monday’s meeting, with teachers offering to “buddy up” with classes of students displaced by the fire and give the directly affected teachers time to reorganize and prepare. 

Also, dozens of community members have already asked how they can help relief efforts, according to Jackie Bearden, of Support Sonora School, which held an emergency meeting Monday after the board meeting. 

Monetary donations can be made to Support Sonora School with the memo “SES Fire Relief Fund” and sent to Bank of America, 180 S. Washington St., Sonora, CA 95370.

School supplies are also sought including pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, rulers, Elmer’s glue, glue sticks, children’s scissors, 1-inch binders, binder dividers, binder paper, three-subject spiral notebook, crayons, colored pencils, individual tissues and hand sanitizers and stuffed animals for comfort. 

Supplies for teachers are also sought in smaller amounts, including staplers, staples, tape dispensers, scotch tape, hole punchers, adult scissors, masking tape, push pins, dry erase markers, dry erasers, grading markers, sticky notes, pens, highlighters, paper clips, binder clips, large hand sanitizers, boxes of tissue, wipes and two-inch binders. 

Supplies can be dropped off in donations boxes at Sonora Elementary School, Sonora Sports and Fitness and ServiceMaster. 

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