To help staff make better informed decisions about student health and safety during air quality events such as wildfires, Dublin Unified School District recently became one of the first school districts in California to establish new air quality guidelines and install air quality sensors at several of its schools.
The sensor networks added at Dublin High School and Amador and Dougherty elementary schools will supplement the Environmental Protection Agency sensor in Livermore, and increase the volume of available data.
Citing predictions that "wildfire activity is likely to increase in the coming year," last month the DUSD Board of Trustees adopted the guidelines, which outline steps for each school site to take during recess, lunchtime, and PE classes and sports practices based on air quality levels at the time.
"One of the most challenging issues faced by school districts in the recent past has been how to address air quality events resulting from wildfires," district officials said in a statement last week.
"Due to the unprecedented nature and frequency of these fires, state and local governing bodies were not prepared with a set of guidelines and ultimately left the task of addressing the issue in the hands of local districts. This created frustration among students, staff, parents, and schools around the state," they added.
The new guidelines are based on recent recommendations from multiple government agencies including the California Air Resources Board and Alameda County Department of Public Health, as well as a local allergy and asthma specialty group.
When air quality is expected to reach the "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" range, DUSD will keep an eye on the sensor network and update all schools with current air quality levels. Should the air quality impact an athletic competition, the district will "consult with the competing district and relevant guidelines available from governing bodies before making any decision of relocating or rescheduling the event."
Maintenance and facilities staff who work outdoors often will be advised to reschedule work or use N95 masks when the air quality index (AQI) level reaches the "Unhealthy" stage. However, according to Alameda County's interim health officer, the masks are not recommended for children and there are no equivalent masks approved for use by children in the U.S.
School closures are also an option, but only if the AQI level hits the "Very Unhealthy" range like during the Camp Fire last year, which burned down nearly the entire rural town of Paradise and left the Bay Area trapped in a thick layer of smoke for several weeks.
"At that point, decisions will be made based on the expected duration of the event and the level of air pollution," officials said, adding that "communication regarding a closure will be made by the district and will be texted and emailed to the community."