School wrong to continue classes in hazardous smoke conditions

November 26, 2018 — by Selena Liu and Shreya Katkere

Why did LGSUHSD decide not to cancel school during bad air quality?

With Saratoga reaching an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 234 the Thursday before Thanksgiving break, the air quality was deemed “very unhealthy” by Saratoga’s weather station. That would have been the moment for education officials to cancel school, but unwisely chose not to.

While the normal air quality in Saratoga is equivalent to smoking only half a cigarette every day, air quality worsened so much on Thursday night that breathing smoke in this area was equivalent to smoking six cigarettes every day, according to Pix11 News Station.

Despite these alarming health warnings, on Friday, students had to walk for prolonged periods during passing in the school’s outdoor corridors to reach their classrooms because of the Santa Clara County ruling that classes would continue in public high schools.

While many schools in the county that continued classes on Friday, like Homestead and  Wilcox, were generally unaffected by the smoke due to access to indoor hallways, Saratoga High, by not canceling classes, made its students particularly susceptible to the smoke, since students could reach their next classes only by walking outside.

Not to mention, many private schools in the Bay Area with exposure to lower AQI smoke levels than SHS also decided to cancel classes. For example, Basis Independent canceled classes on Friday, Monday and Tuesday with an AQI of only 180 on Thursday night, despite only being 12 miles away from Saratoga. Archbishop Mitty, 5.9 miles away from Saratoga, also canceled classes on Friday. Even West Valley College, Saratoga’s local community college, canceled classes on Friday.

The district seemed to prioritize school days over students’ health. On a petition to the school board sent on Nov. 15, many students filed complaints that the smoke was making them suffocate, cough and even vomit.

The school addressed these complaints in their Air Quality advisory, stating, “If you or your child is particularly susceptible to respiratory or heart trouble, please follow medical guidelines first and keep the school informed of any special precautions or absences. If you are concerned about your child’s health and safety while at school, you may choose to keep your child at home.”

What the school failed to realize is that the entire student body was susceptible to hazardous smoke conditions. By stating that only those with “respiratory or heart trouble” should reconsider coming to school, school officials demonstrated a lack of concern for most students’ well-being.

While leaders may have continued school so that important tests scheduled for the days before Thanksgiving break would not have been interrupted, the school fails to realize that students who wanted to stay home for their health either had to sacrifice their health by attending school on these days or sacrifice their Thanksgiving break to study for these tests.

The school and Santa Clara county ignored the clearly unhealthy air quality on Thursday night and demonstrated that they prioritize the school days over student well-being by not canceling school on the three days before Thanksgiving Break.

As massive fall wildfires are seeming to become the new normal in California, schools are clearly going to have to think harder about specific policies regarding poor air quality.

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