Will School Close if There’s More Smoke?

1 min read

As the 2021 California wildfire season is forecast to be even worse than last year’s, M-A students have already experienced an onset of smoke these past three weeks. Thus, the District has prepared a set of guidelines aimed to keep students safe and in good health for school. If air quality becomes unhealthy, there will be a “Shelter in Place” mandate, in which all outdoor activities and extracurriculars would be either put on hold or moved indoors, and a possibility for school closure. 

M-A follows the airnow.gov air quality index (AQI). As of the third week of school, the air quality is in the moderate range, from 50-100 AQI. 

When the AQI reaches 101-150, “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,” parents of students with respiratory or heart illness can request to keep their students indoors during breaks and extracurricular activities. Administrative Vice Principal Stephen Emmi said, “We are trying to procure N95 masks for sensitive groups and have stockpiled some already.”

If the AQI worsens, Emmi explained, “The nurses have healthcare plans for students with health conditions, but it is up to individual families to decide whether or not to keep their children at school. For a period of time, students can go home and complete work at home like during distance learning.” 

Parents of students not a part of “sensitive groups” can also call to excuse their children from school due to air quality concerns at any time during wildfire season. 

While M-A currently mandates that classrooms keep doors and windows open for COVID-19 protocol, this would change when the AQI reaches ​​151, placing the school in the “Shelter in Place” stage. Emmi said, “We would have to close the doors and turn the air purifiers up. If a classroom doesn’t have an air purifier it is because HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] is set up and is meeting a certain higher standard.”

Breaks would be held indoors, and outdoor activities like P.E. and outdoor sports would be canceled, moved indoors, or postponed. Teaching and work would continue, and students would still be able to move freely between buildings.

Emmi said, “We don’t know if the air quality is going to get bad enough for us to go home. But at that point, it would be the District calling it.”

Our school’s closure does not depend on the closure of nearby school districts. 

For deciding when to close school, the District will follow the San Mateo County Health Department (SMCSHD) and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (BAAQMD) recommendations. However, the District stated on its Air Quality FAQ Sheet, “While no universal Air Quality Index (AQI) measure exists above which schools should close, SMCHD is clear that students are safer supervised at school than at home, potentially unsupervised.”

Sheryl Chen is a senior and Editor-in-Chief. She hopes to expand her knowledge on issues pertinent to M-A and the local community. She is also a member of M-A's debate team.

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