Cabrillo Unified School District reported a drop in attendance across its school sites on Oct. 10 during PG&E’s first public safety power shut-off on the Coastside.

While classes continued almost as usual throughout the district, some schools reported absences close to or more than 100 students. The California Department of Education sent emails to districts, including Cabrillo, to help districts decide whether to close during the outage.  

“On an equity lens level, for parents who are working and can’t be home to supervise their children ... we have a duty to keep our schools open,” said Superintendent Sean McPhetridge, who noted that many students did come to school. 

District officials compared that date with normal attendance, which was determined by using attendance numbers over one month from August to September.

At Hatch Elementary School, 140 fewer students came to school that day. Almost 100 students didn’t come to school at Cunha. 

Overall, the school district reported there were 453 fewer students than normal attendance. With a funding formula that takes average daily attendance into account, school districts can lose money when events, such as the outage, take a significant number of students out of class. In response, districts can submit what is known as a J-13A form with the state education department. 

“If you have attendance that is flagging for some reason you can submit the form,” McPhetridge explained. If accepted, the state won’t penalize school districts for the loss of attendance or allow it to affect the funding it receives. Cabrillo plans to submit one for the second outage as well. 

Cunha Principal James Barnes said, although there were fewer students, teachers made use of the natural lighting to continue classes as normal. 

“There were some things that weren’t super easy,” Barnes said. “Feeding kids was difficult. Lunch wasn’t wildly appetizing, but we fed them.”

Despite asking for San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office presence at intersections near school, Barnes said there was nobody there to help direct traffic where stoplights were out. 

“I did cross guard stuff,” Barnes said. “What else are you going to do when you see that problem?” 

Barnes questioned whether the schools could remain open during an extended outage. 

McPhetridge explained the decision rests on many factors, including whether students can be fed, classes aren’t too cold or hot, and whether bathrooms are functional. He also said he wants to look at long-term solutions, including using bond money for solar power. 

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