MENDOCINO Co., 11/14/18 -- The Mendocino County Office of Education, in conjunction with the various school districts across the county, have devised a new set of guidelines to determine school closures due to air quality. From now on they recommend that individual schools check air quality at 5 a.m. and cancel class for anything above a score of 275 on the "Air Quality Index" (AQI) that day. They are also in the process of installing air quality monitors at all area schools.
Since smoke from the devastating Camp Fire in Butte County, now the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, began to blanket the North Coast last week, schools across Mendocino Co. have intermittently closed. Apparently in response to this uncertainty the Education Office has devised this set of guidelines.
It is the Education Office's belief that, "Generally, we believe students are in a safer air quality environment when they are in school. This is because schools typically use filtered air systems while many homes may not have this capability. Additionally, students at school have greater opportunities for indoor activity."
They also note that the decision will be made at 5 a.m. because prediction of air quality made the prior night are unpredictable.
For a time last week Ukiah had the worst air quality in the nation, and among the worst in the world. It is especially notable that the Education Office will be installing new monitors, given the paucity of monitors currently working in Mendocino County. The Mendocino County Air Quality District operates a monitor at the Ukiah downtown library, at the police station in Willits, and one in Fort Bragg, respectively.
The website Purple Air which is recommended by the district, shows a monitor in Cloverdale, and one between Willits and Laytonville on the Sherwood Rd.
If the Office is successful in installing these air quality monitors, it will greatly improve the resolution of measurements in Mendocino County, and our specific knowledge of air quality. Thought it is not clear if the Office is installing these air monitors under the auspices of the Air District, or if they will be connected to the grassroots Purple Air network.
Here is the full press release from the MCOE:
ENSURING THE SAFETY OF OUR STUDENTS DURING NORTHERN CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES
The Mendocino County Office of Education in partnership with
our Mendocino County School Districts, have established guidelines for school cancellations or suspension of school-related activities due to poor air quality. This protocol has been established in order to protect student and staff health in light of ongoing smokey conditions caused by wildfires throughout the Pacific Northwest.
We are currently in the process of installing air quality monitors in all our school district sites. However, in the meantime, we are asking
our school districts to perform a visual test, as well as refer to purpleair.com or airnow.gov to determine air quality conditions for their schools.
The following guidelines utilize the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Under these guidelines, districts will:
Consider canceling classes at an AQI of 275 or higher
Report closures to affected families through pre-established channels
These guidelines are effective immediately and apply to all Mendocino County public school districts.
Why the level 275? Although an AQI level of 301 is the threshold for “Hazardous” air quality for adults, since students are ages 4-18, a lower level was considered appropriate. This came with guidance from the CDC with the understanding that air quality tends to worsen as the day progresses.
Why decide at 5:00 am? It is difficult to make an accurate prediction of the AQI the night before. These major decisions must be made with the best information available and that information is typically not available until the morning.
Generally, we believe students are in a safer air quality environment when they are in school. This is because schools typically use filtered air systems while many homes may not have this capability. Additionally, students at school have greater opportunities for indoor activity. While these standards provide a baseline for districts when considering the cancellation of classes, it is ultimately each district’s decision to determine what is best for their students and staff.
MCOE will continue to work alongside our school districts as well as state and local public health agencies to ensure that all students and staff within Mendocino County are kept safe and healthy.
The Mendocino County Office of Education is a public agency whose primary purpose is to provide educational leadership, resources and services to schools to ensure wide-ranging educational opportunities for all students.