State releases new air quality guidelines amid ongoing wildfire concerns

The state Department of Education has released a set of guidelines to help California school districts determine when to limit outdoor activities, or even when to cancel classes, because of poor air quality resulting from wildfires.

These guidelines come as a series of wildfires in recent years have ravaged communities and school districts in every corner of the state, officials said. The fires can impact tens of thousands of Californians in surrounding communities and blanket entire regions with thick, unhealthy smoke.

Smoke billows over building in Orange

File Photo: Smoke from the Canyon Fire 2 covers much of Northern Orange County. (Courtesy of Daniel James Holloway)

Until now, school districts were on their own to make difficult decisions on whether to cancel classes, remain open or modify school events. This is why leaders from the education, air quality and public health communities established a working group to develop state guidance regarding air quality for California’s 1,026 school districts during wildfire smoke days.

The guidelines identify air quality in five levels, with Level 1 being the cleanest air and Level 5 being the most hazardous. Regional air quality management districts would determine the air quality in case of a wildfire in the region. Level 1 suggests no restriction to school activities, while Level 5 recommends no outdoor activities.

The guidelines are not meant to supersede any protocols or guidelines school districts may have already adopted. And ultimately school leaders in each district still will make final determinations when it comes to student safety concerns.

State officials said these guidelines can provide school districts with another tool to help make these determinations.

Click here to see the guidelines.