Some California community colleges, already struggling with enrollment declines and the fallout from the pandemic, now face new challenges caused by the wildfires.
A haze of smoke rests on Lake Tahoe Community College as the Caldor fire makes its way into the Lake Tahoe Basin. The area is emptying as nearby residents respond to evacuation orders in South Lake Tahoe.
“We’re kind of like a smoky, eerie ghost town right now,” said Jeff DeFranco, president and superintendent of the college.
It’s certainly not the triumphant return to campus he hoped for this fall after the college operated remotely for more than a year due to the pandemic.
DeFranco and other leaders of California community colleges now find themselves struggling to meet the manifold needs of students as multiple fires continue to spread across the state during the start of an already fraught academic year. In addition to supporting students, staff and faculty members, some colleges are also having to shelter affected residents of communities near the campuses.
“I always joke, they didn’t teach me this in presidents’ school,” DeFranco said.