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As wildfires raged east of the city, San Diego City Schools were the exception to a countywide move to shutter schools, with most of the city’s schools remaining open even as emergency officials urged San Diegans to stay home and keep off the highways.

The call was made by Superintendent Carl Cohn, based on fire information supplied by school police in two different emergency operations centers, said district spokesman Jack Brandais. Individual schools themselves have also kept the superintendent informed. Cohn initially planned to keep all San Diego schools open, but the fire’s expansion overnight prompted some last-minute closures in the Mira Mesa and Scripps Ranch areas Monday morning.

The decision not to close the schools appears to be coming under some scrutiny, as the school board just called an emergency board meeting.

There are no specific, established criteria used by the superintendent to assess whether to close schools. Brandais said the district chose to keep most schools open because the majority aren’t directly threatened, and are a safe location for students, who are staying inside and avoiding physical activity.

“It’s just based on the situation at each individual school,” Brandais said. “We’re taking each individual situation as it comes along.”

During the last major fire to scorch San Diego, the Cedar Fire, all county schools were closed the Monday following the fire’s Saturday ignition, according to CNN archives. That fire had already expanded much further into the city of San Diego, destroying 150 Scripps Ranch homes over the weekend of October 25 and 26, 2003, compared to the current wildfire.

None of the San Diego schools closed Monday were immediately threatened as of Monday morning, but other factors led the superintendent to shutter specific schools. Camp Palomar Outdoor School was shut down because a nearby road had been closed off; Mira Mesa High is being used as a Red Cross shelter. And Scripps Ranch, though not currently threatened, might be affected later in the day, said Brandais.

The 14 closed schools will remain staffed, and any children who are dropped off at the schools by uninformed parents or guardians will be supervised by school staff, said Brandais.

Cohn made the call around 7:30 a.m. Monday to close specific schools, according to Brandais. Though the decision to close Mira Mesa and Scripps Ranch schools came close to the morning bell, Brandais was confident that parents were notified in time because school closure information was broadcast via the media. A press release was issued just after 8am. Some schools also used Connect-Ed, an automatic phone messaging system, to send recorded messages to parents and guardians.

The district is also eyeing Tierrasanta schools, which are not currently threatened, and might close the schools if the fire spreads near I-67, said Brandais.

Check back for more on the emergency school board meeting later.

EMILY ALPERT

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