District justified in keeping schools in session

November 27, 2018 — by Jeffrey Ma and Callia Yuan

After the Butte County blazes earlier this month, surrounding areas were impacted by bad air quality. Prior to Thanksgiving Break, air quality index measures swelled from a healthy score of 50 to a hazardous 240 in Saratoga.

Students, teachers and parents alike raised questions about whether having class was the safest or best choice for student health, especially as many Bay Area high schools and universities closed their doors early before the break.

Despite pressure to cancel school, the district board and Santa Clara County as a whole made the correct choice to keep schools open.

Colleges like UC Davis, where the AQI went up to the mid-300s, were the first to cancel, and many high schools in the Bay Area, such as Los Altos High, followed suit. However, unhealthy air is generally a much greater health concern for college campuses, since students often have to bike or walk to and between spread out classes out in the open, as opposed to the relatively closed and tight layout of high schools. While often times the only effective method for colleges to ensure student health is to cancel classes, high schools can mostly corral students to stay indoors and minimize exposure to hazardous air.

While outdoor hallways made it impossible for students here to completely avoid the smoke, staying indoors for as much times as possible, especially tutorial and lunch, kept students’ contact with it to a minimum — and PE classes and other outdoor activities were canceled.

Petitions and complaints to have school canceled were mostly focused on Friday, Nov. 16, after announcements that San Francisco and East Bay schools were canceling for the day. However, calls for mirroring those schools’ decisions fail to account for the poorer air quality and higher AQI numbers in those corresponding areas.

On that day, San Francisco exhibited an AQI well above 200, squarely in the “very unhealthy” section of the spectrum, with serious adverse health effects. The city’s usual fog was replaced by a thick layer of heavy smoke, greatly decreasing visibility as well. By contrast, Saratoga and the South Bay as a whole remained below 200 — not good but not quite crisis level either.

On social media, many students joked that going to school could be carcinogenic and that the air quality was akin to Beijing or New Delhi’s. Students who adopted this jokester perspective failed to see the real issue behind the recent dip in air — such a view only trivialized the actual situation. The temporary poor air quality we endured pales in comparison to the damage and deaths the actual fire caused in Paradise and surrounding areas.