Air quality guidelines aim to address ongoing wildfire concerns

As wildfires spread across California this week, we want to remind you of the state Department of Education’s recently released guidelines to help school districts determine when to limit outdoor activities, or even when to cancel classes, because of poor air quality.

There are currently no wildfires affecting Orange County communities. Yet guidelines were issued over the summer following a series of wildfires that ravaged communities and school districts in every corner of the state. These kinds of 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 recently, school districts were on their own to make difficult decisions on whether to cancel classes, remain open or modify school events. But 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.

California’s school air quality guidelines are available at

A version of this post first ran in August 2019.