The devastating effects of the Camp Fire that began in Paradise, Calif. spread all around the Bay Area. In Palo Alto, the air quality index (AQI) reached upwards of 230 on Thursday, Nov. 15.
According to AirNow, the AQI was in the “Very Unhealthy” range, signifying that “everyone may experience more serious health effects.” The concentration of smoke particles was so great that, according to a Mercury News article, the health harms were equivalent to smoking half a dozen cigarettes during the day.
Several schools affected by the air quality cancelled classes on Friday, Nov. 16, including Castilleja School, Mountain View High School, Ravenswood City School District, Stanford University and the San Mateo School District.
However, PAUSD made the decision to keep all schools open after a recommendation from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.
Although Paly canceled all extracurricular outdoor activities and indoor places for breaks and made meals available on campus, The Campanile is concerned about the decision-making process that led to PAUSD keeping schools open.
Although The Campanile commends PAUSD for excusing absences for students who chose not to come school that day and moving the Turkey Trot indoors, keeping school open raises concerns about where the priorities of Paly lie. While we acknowledge that Camp Fire is a unique situation, we think the District must reflect on this situation and put student health above all in the future.
On Friday, the AQI index decreased slightly, yet was still solidly in the “Unhealthy” range. By keeping school open, administrators exposed many students to health risks.
Students who didn’t have a mask were exposed to dangerous air throughout the day without protection. This included students who had no means of transportation other than biking or walking to school and students who had to go outside during passing periods and before and after school.
Administrators may believe that the health issues were solved by giving students the option to stay home and have their absence excused, but it isn’t that simple for many.
Teachers went over material during the day, and missing class could have put students behind, thus prompting many students to come to school despite harboring concerns about their health.
Another argument Superintendent Don Austin made in an email to PAUSD staff was that students were safest at school.
“Schools are safe places for kids,” Austin wrote in the email. “There is absolutely no doubt that some of our students would have been in unsafe conditions if we had closed. Mountain View was full of high school students in the streets. We may have had East Palo Alto students waiting for buses on corners with parents already off to work.”
The Campanile thinks this argument is flawed. While several students may have chosen to stay outside if there were no school, The Campanile believes the vast majority of students would prioritize their health and stay indoors.
Additionally, schools around the area, even as close as Stanford University and Castilleja school, cancelled classes.
By not erring on the safe side in regards to student health, the District revealed they are more concerned about instructional minutes and potential administrative headaches than student health.
The Campanile understands that Santa Clara County Office of Education recommended schools stay open.
However, PAUSD should consider what is best for its students instead of blindly following authority.
Especially in the case of Paly, many students feel compelled to put their academics ahead of their own wellbeing to keep up. Mountain View High School, also in Santa Clara County, did not open, showing that the Santa Clara County recommendation was not a strict requirement.
The Campanile thinks Paly administrators should learn from the Camp Fire aftermath. The number one priority out to be student health, and administrators must make sure to focus on protecting students in all decisions.