Bad air shuts down schools

Lungs and nerves rattled by heavy smoke and ash

Schools across the county are closed today as poor air quality and bad memories plague Sonoma County. The smoke and ash is blowing in from a considerable distance, from the Camp Fire currently scorching 70,000 acres in Butte County, roughly 100 miles  northeast of Sonoma County.

Starting around 5:30 a.m. school officials from districts across the county checked the Air Quality Index and discussed the possibilities. In addition to the health issues, administrators were cognizant that the smoke and ash carries a mental toll for students as well, with memories of our own firestorm so fresh.

“With a priority on the physical and emotional health and safety of our students and staff, all schools will be closed today,” read a statement from Windsor’s Superintendent Brandon Krueger.

“The first thing to know is that each school district is autonomous and makes this decision on their own, based on conditions in their area,” said Jaime Hansen, director of Communications for the Sonoma County Office of Education. “Air quality can really differ from region to region. There’s no cutline where the state says ‘If it’s like this, you need to cancel school.’ Each district made their decision based on the Air Quality Index readings in their area.”

Sonoma County’s 40 school districts make independent decisions whether to close school based on the air quality conditions in their area,” said Dr. Steven Herrington, Sonoma County superintendent of schools. “In our role coordinating the announcement of school closures to the public, SCOE advises districts to err on the side of caution in protecting student health when making decisions to close because of air quality. This is because children, especially young children, have still-developing lungs and a higher rate of activity, which makes them more susceptible to the impacts of smoke.

“At 5 a.m. this morning, the air quality reading was quite poor and was predicted to decline rapidly, which has since happened. Based on this prediction, all Sonoma County school districts made the decision to close school,” finished Herrington.

Though public schools all shut their doors for the day, several local private and independent schools stayed open. The Town of Windsor’s preschool program was open, and the public library system is open and offering a smoke-free respite from the conditions. Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Windsor, Sebastopol and Guerneville branches are all open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Forestville branch is open from 3 to 6:30 p.m.

In addition, all county offices are open for business as usual.

At 10:20 a.m. on Friday, the Air Quality Index for Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale was 179, and between 142 and 160 in west county. 101 to 150 is considered “Unhealthy for sensitive groups (including children) and 151 to 200 is considered “Unhealthy.”

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The Air Quality Index – https://airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basics