Students return to class; but fears about busing Indian Valley students loom

By Debra Moore

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In staggered starts, Plumas County students are returning to the classroom.

Plumas Unified students in Quincy returned to class this past Tuesday, Sept. 7, and their Chester counterparts returned Thursday, Sept. 9. Portola students are scheduled to be back in the classroom on Monday, Sept. 13. As for Indian Valley students, some are attending classes in the aforementioned communities, with the hope that they will be able to return to some form of instruction in the valley soon. The Dixie Fire had impacted all of the back-to-school starts due to evacuation orders and warnings, as well as the need to ensure the campuses were clear of smoke.

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Most of the public comment during the Sept. 8 meeting of the Plumas Unified School District governing board focused on parents and teachers asking the board to work with Plumas Charter School to offer joint TK through sixth grade classes in Taylorsville. (Taylorsville is home to the former PUSD Taylorsville Elementary School campus and the charter school’s Indian Valley Academy). Now that the mandatory evacuation has been lifted in Taylorsville, work to prepare the facilities for students can resume.

In a statement released Sept. 9 PUSD Superintendent Terry Oestreich said: “At this time, we don’t have an anticipated start date for Greenville Elementary School opening on the Taylorsville campus; however, our team of Greenville/Taylorsville administrators and teachers, from both PUSD and Plumas Charter School, are exploring options to partner and provide our students and community a collective experience as the healing, restoring and rebuilding process evolves.”

As of now, 11 Indian Valley elementary school students are being taken by bus to either Quincy or Chester. But the challenges of providing bus transportation for students was another topic that arose during the school board meeting.

Bus driver Megan Neer said that she has had students on her bus for nearly two hours as they navigate the gauntlet of road construction and fire-related delays between Greenville and Quincy. She said that thus far she has witnessed “two wrecks, lots of road work and lots of traffic,” but is even more worried about what is to come. “I am very concerned about this winter and busing these kids out of this valley,” she said, citing rock slides and the very real possibility that the students could become stuck in Quincy. “Then what do we do?” she asked.

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Neer hopes that the busing arrangement will be short term and that the students will be able to go to class in Indian Valley. In addition to the Taylorsville locations, PUSD’s Greenville High School and Elementary School survived the fire, but can’t be inhabited yet.

Another speaker, Misty Banchio, added her voice to Neer’s. “I totally agree with Megan. I just hope that going into winter that we have a plan — whether they are together or separate — that we are bringing them back to the valley.”

Plumas County Supervisor Kevin Goss also expressed concern about busing children — particularly in winter. He thanked Portola, Quincy and Chester for welcoming students and their families during this “traumatic ordeal” but said the busing situation is a true emergency.

Back to school numbers

At the elementary school level, all three campuses saw an increase in enrollment over last year – and those numbers are expected to climb slightly as more children return to the classroom.

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Chester Elementary went from 153 to 163 students.

Quincy Elementary went from 295 to 356 students.

C. Roy Carmichael in Portola went from to 298 students to 338 students.

The local high schools also saw an increase.

Chester High School went from 130 to 137.

Quincy High School went from 307 to 369.

Portola High School went from 277 to 308.

Last year Greenville High School had an enrollment of 80.

Assistant Superintendent Kristy Warren said that some of the increases could be attributed to Indian Valley students, but not all.

In other business, the board agreed to form an Ad Hoc committee to include the Superintendent or designee, and two board members. The Ad Hoc Committee would review information and make decisions when circumstances require a prompt decision specific to items such as school start dates, delayed starts and COVID-related items impacting schools.

The Ad Hoc committee will also serve as a starting point to begin discussing the restoration process for Greenville schools.  “We see the potential formation of sub committees to discuss the multiple related topics such as environmental clean up (debris and hazardous materials/waste disposal), preparing for rains, psychological impacts to returning students and staff, working utilities (sewer, water, electricity, cable, phone, Internet, etc.), and FEMA options and support,” Oestreich said of the committee.

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