The recent California wildfires have filled our air in Sonoma County with thick, noxious smoke that has settled over our county for weeks. As the school principal at PHCS, I was concerned for the health of my students while on campus. I started learning about Air Quality Indexes so that I could make wise decisions about cancelling school if the air on campus was not healthy. The multiple sites I used to gather this information all suggested that unhealthy air starts at 150 AQI.
My own worldview is that parents are the primary guardians of their children.
My decisions for the direction of PHCS are based whole-heartedly upon this. I believe we, as a school, are simply a tool in the hands of parents who want their children educated by loving teachers, in a small, country school environment, where we freely open our Bibles, and learn to love Jesus with everything we’ve got: mind, soul, and strength! Not for one second do I think that we are smarter than parents, or can offer better health care for their children.
After several days of many schools closing for poor air quality, the county superintendents had a meeting to discuss and decide exactly what levels of poor air quality should close down schools. The Office of Education boldly emailed all of the local school administrators, including myself, and issued an
Air Quality Index Matrix. The superintendents identified the AQI threshold for cancelling school to be at 275! This was 125 points more than the “Unhealthy” rating most weather sites identified.
Much to my surprise and that of many parents, a letter was sent along with the matrix. It explained that many homes were not equipped with the high level air filtration systems present in most schools. They also charged that when school was cancelled many children may not have indoor activity opportunities. Overall, this letter claimed that schools were in a better position to care for children in bad air quality than most parents.
I saw both parents and teachers immediately take to social media over these egregious numbers. Nevertheless, many public schools were open the following day with numbers between 160-190, though they were closed the day before with similar numbers. I know parents who kept their children home and signed a petition to have this matrix revisited.
When schools serve families in communities, better decisions will result about when it is healthy to keep the school doors open...and closed. In this case, the inflated view that schools are more informed/equipped than parents, is hazardous to everyone’s health.