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Matthew Torres, a junior at Santa Ynez Valley High School, and Vanessa Garcia, a sophomore, wait for rides after finishing their final exams Friday. The tests were rescheduled after the school closed due to impact from the Thomas fire.

Len Wood, Staff

Administrators at several Santa Barbara County school districts are petitioning the California Department of Education to allow for a reduction in instructional days after multiple sites were closed in December due to smoke and ash from the Thomas fire.

Districts must hold a minimum of 180 instructional days per year to receive their full apportionment of state funds. Those that fall short will receive a reduced apportionment according to the number of days the district is deficient, unless the state approves the request to waive the loss of attendance and missing instructional time.

The process, which takes months to be approved, would defray the decrease to state funding resulting from the reduction of instructional hours caused by the school closures.

"Everything I have heard from the state regarding the petition process has been positive," Scott Cory, superintendent for the Santa Ynez Union High School District, said Friday. The district will begin the process later this month after trustees approve the request during their January meeting. It will then be sent to the County Education Office for approval by the superintendent of schools before making its way to the state.

"In our favor is the fact that both state and federal officials declared Santa Barbara County a disaster area and that the Thomas fire was an unprecedented event," Cory explained. "I don’t anticipate any problems with our petition."

Santa Ynez Valley schools, which were closed for five days due to the fire, resumed school earlier this week. Students, like Santa Ynez High School junior Matthew Torres, were treated to three days of finals following their earlier-than-anticipated three-week break.

"Students were ready to pound out their final and take the break [three weeks ago,]" he said. 

Students at Lompoc Unified, which also opted to close schools for five days, are due back in class Monday. John Karbula, the district's superintendent for Business Services, said the district is currently in the process of completing the request and will seek board approval before it is submitted to the County Education Office.

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Several Santa Maria Valley school districts, which only closed schools for one day, have submitted or plan to submit their requests to the county.

"We added an emergency item to the [December] board agenda so the board could approve a waiver for the missing school day," said Santa Maria-Bonita spokesperson Maggie White. "We’re not constantly canceling school, so I have to believe the state knows there were extenuating circumstances down here."

The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District will submit its request in February, after seeking board approval, according to Yolanda Ortiz, assistant superintendent for Business Services.

"The County [Education] Office has been in communication with the California Department of Education regarding the waiver and doesn’t anticipate any issues with approval of the request," she said.

If denied, the districts must choose between making up the lost instructional time or accepting a cut to apportionment ranging from one-half to 3 percent, depending on the amount of instructional time missed.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.