Pollution Guidelines Will Help Schools Decide What to do During Wildfire Season

SACRAMENTO -- Communities 100 miles away from the Camp Fire struggled with ways to fend off health problems caused by a massive smoke cloud that stretched into the far reaches of the Bay Area and Northern California.

That also goes for schools districts who were trying to protect their students.

"Haphazard decisions were made," said Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg.

Tuesday, McGuire said school districts were in a tough spot for a week during the Camp Fire. They had pollution index numbers from air pollution control districts but struggled to interpret them.

"To keep kids in classrooms, cancel outdoor activities or to cancel classes altogether," McGuire said.

Aggravating incidents of asthma among students is a big concern.

"Asthma incidents is growing in the state of California. So, it needs to be a primary concern for parents and for schools," said Kurt Karperos with the California Air Resources Board.

Now, after months of meetings educators, air pollution officials and community groups developed guidelines broken down into five pollution index levels suggesting what may be allowable during recess, lunch breaks, athletic practices and after-school events. At times, it's suggested that schools close altogether.

While the health of students is of primary concern, the air quality guidelines are only recommendations. The people who created them recognize that as far as school districts go, one size doesn't fit all.

The guidelines are intended to be just one tool in deciding when to close a school, for instance.

"A lot of students rely on schools for meals, that's another consideration," said Juan Mireles with the state Department of Education. "Many schools have better air filtration systems than residential areas, so the air quality might be better at schools."

The guidelines are for parents too, so they are more comfortable with school decisions regarding their kids.

"In the belief that we are making the most healthy choice for their child and that we have their interest at heart," said Mike Walsh with the Butte County Office of Education.

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