For days now, wildfire smoke has degraded the air quality in much of the Mountain West, and that unhealthy air is forcing tough decisions for schools that are trying to reopen.
A lot of school districts are starting instruction online this year because of COVID-19. Transmission of the virus is significantly higher indoors with poor ventilation, so schools took that into account in their planning. But wildfire smoke has thrown a wrench in some of those plans.
The private Foothills School of Arts and Sciences in Boise, for example, had planned on holding classes outdoors in the mornings. But it was back to virtual learning as of last week.
"We're making a call each morning as to what to do, and we’re hoping that as soon as the air quality improves we’ll bring students back to in-person outdoor learning in the mornings as quickly as we can," said Nick Cofod, the head of the school.
In Reno, Megan Downs, with the Washoe County School District, said wildfire smoke affects "our abilities, for example, to have busses with great airflow…. Obviously you can’t have the windows open during a time like that. So we had to make some decisions on the fly based off what the air quality was doing each day."
Downs added that when students can’t go outside, they don’t really get any breaks from wearing a mask during school.
Visit fire.airnow.gov to view the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program's fire and smoke map.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.