Sonoma County Schools Superintendent Testifies in Support of Disaster Preparedness Bills

Sonoma County Schools Superintendent Steve Herrington traveled to Sacramento on Wednesday to testify in support of two education bills that aim to better equip schools to deal with disasters.

Herrington, the county’s elected school leader since 2010, led the county’s Office of Education to help the area’s 40 public school districts through several years of catastrophic wildfires, floods, days smoke and power cuts.

Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, asked him to speak to members of the California State Assembly Education Committee on what schools need to address the climate more unstable which has disrupted the functioning of schools.

“It’s not the honor you want to be recognized in, but what you want to do is provide resources for your colleagues so they can have an easier time,” Herrington said.

The education committee, in an afternoon hearing, voted to advance the two bills for which Herrington testified.

Assembly Bill 2814, introduced by Wood, would provide $1 million in competitive grants that school districts could apply for to support their emergency plans. Assembly Bill 2072, introduced by Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, D-Woodland Hills, is intended to address mental health needs during emergencies.

“I’m starting to feel like the poster child of natural disasters,” Herrington joked as he prepared to speak to the committee.

Wood said he hopes to provide support to districts that most need additional resources to prepare for disasters.

“We started talking to some people and realized that there really wasn’t a big pool of resources for our little districts to be able to do that kind of planning,” Wood said.

The California Department of Education would be responsible for disbursing the grant money. Schools would apply for funds to support their efforts to coordinate response plans with city and county emergency services, and assess the hazards to which they are vulnerable, among other activities.

The state Department of Education would then be expected to monitor the funded efforts and submit a report to the Legislative Assembly by November 1, 2026. This report would include a summary of recipients’ emergency planning activities and recommendations. for the future.

“I’m a big believer in prevention and preparation,” Wood said. “I would rather we were prepared and never had to use these tools than to be caught off guard and not be able to react as quickly as we could have.”

The education panel voted unanimously to forward the bill to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which will review the bill’s fiscal impact.

Herrington also spoke about AB 2072, which would require county education offices to develop plans with local schools and all relevant local and state agencies to “rapidly deploy qualified mental health professionals and other key school personnel” in the event of an emergency.

Herrington cited SCOE’s creation of its behavioral health team after the 2017 wildfires as an example of what that planning could look like.

The education office’s decision came amid budget cuts at the Sonoma County Health Services Department that had stripped mental health staff, and at a time when the state and federal government were providing far less funding than it currently does for mental health in schools.

“There wasn’t always a full level of trauma and disaster support,” Herrington said.

Since 2018, an ’emergency team’ of SCOE mental health staff has deployed to various emergencies. They went as far as Butte and Mendocino counties to help during wildfires, Herrington said.

“It’s a county supporting another county because we believe in it, but we have to coordinate those services across the state,” Herrington said in testimony.

The education committee also voted to move Gabriel’s bill forward. It now goes to the Assembly Health Committee.

Congressman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, also introduced a bill to the Education Committee on Wednesday to make it safer for students with epilepsy and other seizure disorders.

This would increase training requirements and allow parents to create crisis action plans that detail the types of treatment trained school staff can provide their children in a crisis.

The Education Committee voted unanimously to forward Levine’s bill to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

You can reach editor Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or [email protected] On Twitter @ka_tornay.