Due to bad air from fires, all the activity at Stanislaus schools is inside

Various views from space of California wildfires and their smoke

The Camp Fire and Woosley Fire and the smoke emanating from them are so intense that they can easily be seen from National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration satellites.
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The Camp Fire and Woosley Fire and the smoke emanating from them are so intense that they can easily be seen from National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration satellites.

Because of smoke from wildfires, public school districts in Stanislaus County are keeping students inside, on what Modesto City Schools calls a rainy day schedule.

“We receive hourly updates from San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and make decisions accordingly,” MCS spokeswoman Becky Fortuna told The Bee in an email Thursday morning. “As a result, we have been on a ‘rainy day schedule’ since Tuesday, meaning all recess and PE occurs indoors.

“We know that many of our families count on us to provide students a safe, supervised environment to go to every day, and we are meeting that responsibility while taking the necessary steps to keep students indoors.”

Precautions put into place Thursday in Riverbank Unified schools include moving indoors all PE classes, all elementary school recesses, including lunch, and all after-school activities, Superintendent Daryl Camp said.

Turlock Unified School District also is monitoring air quality hourly, spokeswoman Marie Russell said. “At this time, we plan to keep schools open but to cancel all outdoor activities to ensure the safest situation for our students,” she wrote in an email Thursday morning. “If conditions worsen significantly, we will reassess the situation and send updates as appropriate.” She noted that the district sent an electronic message to parents Wednesday night, and that families also can stay updated by following TUSD on social media.

Stanislaus County Office of Education Superintendent Tom Changnon emailed school districts superintendents Thursday morning, “We have had some questions about the smoke in the air and have been asked if any K-12 schools in Stanislaus County are closing due to the poor air quality. At this time we don’t know of any. ... From what I understand, our air quality number in Stanislaus County is 170 this time, so you may want to limit student activity outdoors.”

The Patterson, Oakdale, Sylvan and Denair districts also confirmed they’re on an indoor schedule. The districts’ actions are in line with an advisory from the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency on Wednesday. In it, Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, public health officer, said the agency is not recommending school closures or cancellation of normal business activities.

The advisory urges the general public to minimize outdoor activities and stay indoors, with windows and doors closed as much as possible. “Poor wildfire containment and shifting winds can drastically change air quality in a short period of time,” the advisory says. “Smoke from wildfires can affect health. The most common symptoms are eye and throat irritation, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Persons with health problems, especially heart or respiratory conditions, should take extra caution.”

If used correctly, N95 respirators can help filter air to make it safer to breathe. These can helpful when air conditions are poor due to wildfire smoke.

Air quality in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties currently is unhealthy, according to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Its Real-time Air Advisory Network said fine particulate matter in the air was “very unhealthy” in Modesto on Thursday morning, meaning “everyone should avoid outdoor activity if possible.”

But even the highest of its five-level Real-time Outdoor Activity Risk guidelines stop short of calling for school closures. Regarding recess, PE and athletic training and practice, it says all activities should be indoors.

For a second day, though, California State University, Stanislaus, closed its Turlock campus Thursday, as well as its Stockton satellite campus. The university president cited “variable and unpredictable” air quality for possibly many days to come.

In response to a Modesto Bee post on its Facebook page about the Stan State closure, some parents asked why public schools still are making kids attend, and not providing masks. There were suggestions that parents simply keep children home sick if they’re concerned.

A Patterson resident wrote, “As long as the schools actually follow the air quality guidelines, kids are safe at school. It would cause distress to working families for the schools to close. Some kids may not have adult supervision, end up home alone, and choose to go skateboarding or for a bike ride. The majority of the school day is (or can be, at least on a short-term basis) indoors. If we start canceling school, we have to make up the days somewhere.”

Modesto Junior College announced Thursday afternoon that it, too, was closing its campuses. There would be no classes and activities from 4 p.m. through Sunday “due to extremely poor air quality, and in the interest of the health of our students and employees.”

It said classes will resume Monday.

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