A hazy resolution on a smoky situation


GBHS on the morning of Friday, Sept 7 (Photo/Riley Reed)

Smoke from the Mosquito Fire, which started Aug. 28, has significantly affected the Granite Bay and Placer County area over the week of Sept 4-11. As a result, practices and extracurricular activities all across Granite Bay High School were canceled as the concern for student and staff health rises.

All decisions based around the permittance of outdoor activities and school attendance during times with smoke are based on the Air Quality Index, or AQI. For the Roseville Joint Union High School District, all AQI levels are based off of AIRNow.gov, an air quality source partnered with the U.S. government.

“We do have an AQI guidance and action reference sheet that the district has provided us. That way all (RJUHSD) schools are making similar decisions when it comes to the smoke and also the safety of our students and staff,” Sara Wetteland, Assistant Principal at GBHS, said.

The AQI reference sheet – based on the Airnow.gov 0-500 scale – outlines actions that the district recommends the school take for both matters of attendance and actions while in school, and guidelines for outdoor physical activity, whether for P.E. or extracurricular activities.

“We look at 100 to 200 and moving things indoors, with as little as possible (classroom) door opening and closing … and then after that we get to the unhealthy 200 or 300 part of it. And that’s kind of where we started looking at like okay, we should cancel outdoor activity,” Wetteland said. 

While the district has given GBHS guidelines to follow, nearly all decisions relating to allowing outdoor activities to continue is up to GBHS and their interpretation of those guidelines. The staff involved with making decisions relating to AQI at the school are Principal Gregory Sloan, Wetteland, and Athletic Director Tim Healy. It’s only ever when the AQI reaches 301-500 “Hazardous” level that the district steps in, and would make a decision for GBHS whether or not to continue school that day.

“Anything above 120 (AQI) I like (the band) to stay inside,” Lynn Lewis, band director, said.

While it’s up to certain GBHS admin to determine continuation of practices, coaches and other staff are still allowed to make the decision to move indoors even when not necessary. Additionally, coaches were able to move around schedules to avoid smoke entirely. Moving outdoors against active GBHS guidelines, however, is not allowed.

“There were some things that didn’t get canceled because they had moved their practice to later in the day, or earlier in the morning …  it’s us working with our coaches to make sure that we’re being safe,” Wetteland said.

However, having to accomodate for AQI levels at any given time is challenging, especially when valuable practice time for extracurricular activities is being lost.

“We have to learn a lot more, in a shorter amount of time,” Lewis said.

“I was concerned for my health as I had headaches and felt like I had the flu. I stayed home for two days.”

— Soraya Johnson, asthmatic student

With the week of smoke and simultaneously one of the worst heat waves in recent years for California, the progress for the GBHS band has fallen behind significantly as there have been no chances for before or after school practices.

Two weeks behind schedule and a performance in October, Lewis stresses their need to learn as much as possible, and how another week of smoke could set them back detrimentally.

While extracurricular activities struggle with keeping a schedule amongst canceled practices and games, potentially life threatening problems face certain GBHS students as a result of the smoke.

“I was concerned for my health as I had headaches and felt like I had the flu. I stayed home for two days,” Soraya Johnson said.

Johnson, an asthmatic, is one of many students at GBHS facing respiratory problems that has had to take more drastic measures to protect their health.

“We had some kids who came in to the nurse’s office who were having difficulties breathing,” Wetteland said. “Also students that came in that didn’t feel good and wanted to go home, absolutely. Call home, get cleared to go home.”

Other measures were taken as many students, even those without respiratory problems, chose to wear masks on some days; teachers were also reminded that they have extra masks that could be handed out to students if needed. 

“People were just managing it how they felt necessary, and (the school) was not going to get in the way of anybody needing to be in the nurse’s office for a while or go home,” Wetteland said.

According to archive data from AIRNow.gov, the highest AQI that GBHS experienced during the week of Sept 4-11 was on Friday, Sept 9, where it was measured to be in the 151-200  “Unhealthy” AQI range.