Since the Marshall Fire, BVSD says it has enrolled 787 new students in the McKinney-Vento program, which provides school resources to students without stable housing. Credit: Anthony Albidrez

Note: This story was updated on Jan. 14 at 4:45 p.m. with a comment from BVSD regarding open enrollment for families displaced by the fire.

The Marshall Fire has displaced hundreds of students from their homes, according to Boulder Valley School District Superintendent Rob Anderson. 

“We have 804 students right now who we know have either been displaced, or their homes have been significantly damaged or destroyed,” Anderson said during a virtual town hall Sunday. 

He said the district is asking families displaced by the fire to fill out this form so the district can determine what their needs are and connect them to resources. Families with students seeking mental health counseling can fill out this form

Some students displaced by the fire will be eligible for resources under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which provides rights to certain school services for students who “who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” According to BVSD, this includes students staying in a shelter, doubling up with family or friends, sleeping in cars, parks, campgrounds or hotels, or living in a situation where utilities are turned off or the space is too small.

For students enrolled in the McKinney-Vento program, BVSD will waive all fees and provide transportation or reimbursements for fuel costs “when appropriate,” according to Randy Barber, a spokesperson for BVSD. 

Barber said the district has enrolled 787 new students in the McKinney-Vento program since the Marshall Fire.

The program also ensures students who move across the district due to the fire can still attend the same school while enrolled in the program. 

BVSD’s open enrollment closed on Jan. 6. Barber said open enrollment is not extended for students in the McKinney-Vento program. He said these students will be able to stay in their home school and transfers to other buildings are handled through a different process.

BVSD will roll all impacted students to their current school for the 2022-23 school year, according to the district’s website.

School supplies 

In addition to resources under the McKinney-Vento program, students displaced by the fire can pick up a free backpack and Google Chromebook at their schools, Anderson said. 

Impact on Education, a local nonprofit collecting donations to support BVSD students, has raised $400,000 to help students impacted by the fire, according to executive director Allison Billings. 

“Funds are being deployed to provide some normalcy to the students who lost their homes, so we immediately provided backpacks, school supplies and headphones to schools so students can resume learning, and families have one less thing to worry about,” Billings wrote in an email to the Boulder Reporting Lab. 

She added, “BVSD insurance will be used first, but we will pay for anything that’s not eligible for reimbursement by their insurance policy. We are planning to help the 54 BVSD staff who lost their homes as well. Beyond these immediate things, we’ll also be investing in much-needed mental health supports in BVSD in the near and longer term.” 

She said students who need supplies should reach out to the organization directly (303-524-3865) or contact their school. 

Covid-19 and staffing shortages 

The Marshall Fire destroyed more than a thousand homes in Louisville and Superior, communities where more than 30,000 people live. At least one person died in the fire, officials said. The cause is still under investigation. 

The district called students back into school on Jan. 6, one week after the fire, as planned. 

“This is incredibly important knowing that schools – both in the area of the fire and outside – can serve a very important role of supporting students and their families following this large tragedy,” Superintendent Anderson wrote in a Facebook post. “Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.” 

Attendance has been down since students returned to school, Barber said. But he said it’s difficult to know how many students have not returned to school due to the fire. He said some students and staff are out because of Covid-19. 

The Omnicron variant has led to an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases in Colorado. It’s unclear how this is affecting Boulder Valley students in part because the district’s COVID-19 dashboard is not updated regularly

The disaster comes on top of a workforce shortage that prompted the district to cancel classes on the Friday after Veterans Day last year. 

Last week, the district increased pay for substitute teachers to $175 from $100 per day, Monday through Thursday. BVSD also bumped substitute pay rates to $200 on Fridays. It is offering signing bonuses to bus drivers, too. 

Before the fire, 388 of BVSD’s approximate 30,000 students were living unhoused, doubling up with other families, or living in temporary shelters or hotels, according to data from the Colorado Department of Education. In a district where more than 90% of students graduate high school in four years, the graduation rate for BVSD students considered homeless is 61%, according to the state.

John Herrick

I report on housing, climate, health and local government for the Boulder Reporting Lab. I previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. I’m interested in stories about people, power and fairness.