Sonoma County Schools Air Quality Guidelines

  • Wildfire Smoke

    Over the last several months, Sonoma County school districts have consulted with air quality management districts and public health experts to update the air quality guidelines as needed based on new information and expert guidance. These guidelines represent a consensus of the Sonoma County Office of Education, Sonoma County Public Health Department,  Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District (NSCAPCD), and all Sonoma County school districts.

    We are hearing from numerous experts that, in most cases, schools are one of the safest places to be. For example, the EPA identifies schools as potential “cleaner air centers” where, if they are properly equipped, they can provide students or community with better air during a smoke event. While this may not be the case for every family and student, we must consider the safety of students who do not have the option or resources to access clean air at home. This is a complex and evolving issue and, unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Local educational leaders are continuing to seek and act on the best information available.   

    Please take time to look at the guidelines and read the information below. The guidelines are not mandatory but are meant to assist schools in making these difficult decisions. Ultimately, each school and district must decide what is in the best interest of their students based on local conditions.

    About the Guidelines

    • Guidelines were modified from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control’s  Air Quality and Outdoor Activity Guidance for Schools  and Sonoma County Department of Health Services
    • They were developed by Sonoma County school districts in consultation with the Sonoma County Department of Public Health, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District (NSCAPCD), and the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE).
    • They are meant to assist school districts in making decisions when air quality is poor. School closure is ultimately a district-by-district decision based on local conditions.
    • The impact of smoke depends on the sensitivity of the person and the length of exposure, as outlined in this activity chart provided by NSCAPCD. Children are considered “group 2” because their developing lungs and heightened activity make them more sensitive to the impacts of smoke. 

    Choosing to Use the Guidelines

    • School districts will monitor the air quality index (AQI) using EPA’s AQI monitoring tools at Airnow.gov
    • School activities/closures decisions will be made based on AirNow measurements and local conditions, such as the availability/quality of air filtration and direct observation of indoor/outdoor air quality.
    • School districts will report any school closures to SCOE for media notification.
    • School districts will announce any closures to families using normal school closure procedures.
    • Children with respiratory or heart conditions are vulnerable to poor air quality and may require extra precautions.
    • School districts should advise parents to consult with their family health care provider.

    About Masks

    • There is insufficient data to support the benefit of prolonged use of N95 respirators in wildfire smoke events.
    • When air is unhealthy, the best option is to reduce physical activity and stay indoors with windows/doors closed. If indoor temperature is high, get to a location with cleaner, filtered air such as a public library, shopping mall or other building with HVAC system filtration.
    • Masks have limitations. Surgical gauze masks provide no protection from smoke. N95 respirator masks are designed for professional use by trained adults and are not intended for children. Therefore, masks are not recommended for children by most air quality districts/public health agencies.
    • N95 masks require a perfect seal to be effective. They can give a false sense of security without a proper fit.
    • N95 masks may be dangerous for certain persons with lung or heart conditions and may lead to increased heart rate, respiratory rate, and/or labored breathing.
    • Masks must be kept clean and replaced frequently to be effective.