Dear Parents and Community Members,
On November 14, we published air quality safety guidelines for Mendocino County schools in response to poor air quality caused by recent wildfires. Our goal was—and remains—to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all Mendocino County students.
Because the State of California has not issued air quality guidelines for schools, we created recommendations for local schools based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and in collaboration with our district superintendents.
- Consult Purple Air (www.purpleair.com) at 5:00 am on the day of the potential closure. Determine air quality based on airnow.gov or a visual guide until sensors are installed at each school district.
- Consider canceling classes at an AQI of 275 or higher.
- Report closures to affected families through pre-established channels.
Since issuing these guidelines, some questions and concerns have arisen. The information below addresses these questions and concerns.
Air Quality Monitors
Because California wildfires are becoming more common and more intense, dangerous air quality is a bigger threat to our students’ wellbeing. To more closely monitor and mitigate this threat, MCOE will install air quality monitors from Purple Air (www.purpleair.com) in each school district. These monitors will allow districts to accurately assess the air quality in their region and make well-informed decisions as to when schools should close. Districts with varying microclimates within their regions will receive two monitors to ensure accurate readings for all school sites.
It is important to note that each district determines when the air quality is too unhealthy for their schools to remain open. MCOE has provided guidance, but depending on additional variables—the time students are exposed to the outdoors during the day, the time spent walking to and from classes, the quality of the air filtration system at each school, and student transportation—districts may determine the need to close at a lower AQI number than the one MCOE has recommended.
Funding During a School Closure
We’ve been asked several questions about how school closures affect school funding. When a school district enacts an emergency closure due to a natural disaster, the district may submit a waiver to the state. Upon approval, the district receives supplemental funding for the days their schools are closed. Additionally, should the district opt to remain open during a period of poor air quality that does not require a mandatory closure and that district experiences a significant decrease in attendance due to poor air quality, they may also submit a waiver to recover lost funding. If school is open but parents and guardians believe it is not in the best interest of their child to attend due to air quality issues, they should keep their child home. Student health and safety is our number one priority.
School Closure Threshold
After reviewing school-related guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and air quality guidelines from surrounding counties, we determined that schools in Mendocino County should close in the event of an air quality index (AQI) level of 275 or more (i.e., “Very Unhealthy” to “Hazardous” ranges, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)).
This does not mean that levels from 50-274 are considered healthy; however, we believe students generally have access to cleaner air while in school, as our schools have high-quality filtration systems, whereas many private residences do not. Additionally, this 275+ threshold is 25 units lower than recommendations for school closures issued by the EPA and CDC.
Once again, these are recommended guidelines, not requirements. Each district may close schools based on their own assessments and determinations. Similarly, parents must determine whether it is in their student’s best interest to attend school in the event of poor air quality, as they know their child’s needs best.
I am grateful to everyone who expressed concerns or asked questions. I promise MCOE will continue to support our districts and students to the best of our ability, and that student and staff health will continue to be a top priority.
Superintendent of Schools