Air Quality Protocols



In today’s California, large-scale fires that leave a path of destruction on communities are becoming more common. Even when fires burn hundreds of miles away, the impact on the air here in the Bay Area can be felt for days, sometimes weeks.

Parents, educators, students and community members are right to be concerned. As a school district that serves students preschool through eighth grade, SCSD serves a vital role for not only the education of our children, but ensuring their safety and security. Families depend on us to remain open as long as we are able to continue to serve and protect students. Doing so is our number one priority. We also recognize that individual parents are the best judges of the conditions under which their students should attend school when schools remain open during days with poor air quality.

SCSD has developed these FAQs to help guide a parents' and caregivers' understanding of our district’s response to poor air quality. SCSD reserves the right to update this FAQ and its protocol if and when reliable information would necessitate.

What resources does SCSD use to make decisions about air quality and our response?

SCSD, along with all school districts in San Mateo County, uses two sources to track air quality: the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website,, and Bay Area Air Quality Management District, With the advisement of the County Health Department, we use these sources because they are calibrated and regulated. Other popular websites are part of the "internet of things," which are not currently calibrated or regulated, resulting in readings which the district cannot solely rely on when making decisions. This is not to say that sites such as these might not evolve into a reliable resource; it's simply to say that they are not currently the tools the district is at liberty to use. We encourage parents and community members to use AirNow and BAAQMD, as well. To help inform the district's response, SCSD refers to the California Department of Education's Memo on Guidelines for Schools and Wildfire Smoke.

At what point will SCSD keep students indoors due to air quality concerns?

Using Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers from AirNow and/or BAAQMD, we apply the recommendations from The Air Quality and Outdoor Activity Guidance for Schools to determine the appropriate activities based on the AQI.

  • When air quality index levels reach 101-150, “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups,” only students with a specific restriction regarding air quality on their SCSD Health Care Plan will be kept inside during recess, P.E. and lunch.  All parents can contact the school office to request their child to stay indoors for recesses and lunchtime.
  • When the AQI levels reach 151- 500, “Unhealthy,” “Very Unhealthy,” we will hold all physical activities inside for all children, including recess, P.E, and lunch.  
  • Field trips to indoor locations will move forward as planned. Outdoor field trips will proceed as planned when AQI levels are below 151.

How does SCSD monitor students who are considered a “sensitive group?”

SCSD refers to the Air Quality and Outdoor Activity Guidance for Schools from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to inform our decisions for caring for students who have asthma and/or other respiratory health concerns. As always, our staff will prioritize student health needs and follow student health plans. If your child has asthma and/or other related health concerns, please make sure his/her Asthma Action Plan is updated to include responses during days with poor air quality and that the necessary medications and the requisite directions are provided to the school.

When the Air Quality Index (AQI) is concerning while children are at school, what further measures will SCSD take to decrease exposure?

SCSD refers to the Air Quality and Outdoor Activities Guidance for Schools Chart set by the EPA to make decisions on the location of activities. If the AQI enters the unhealthy range, SCSD will implement Shelter in Place Protocol. During “Shelter in Place,” students and staff may move freely inside buildings, and teaching and work continues. Recess and outdoor activities will be canceled or held indoors; movement outside between buildings is okay. Staff should close and seal doors, windows, and vents; shut down the classroom/building heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to prevent exposure to the outside air. “Shelter in Place” may be modified depending on the air quality level, the distance between buildings, and other factors.

What steps can parents/caregivers take to support their child during poor air quality?

Parents are encouraged to talk to their children about air quality concerns. Feel free to share these factual official advisories that are published by the Environmental Protection Agency. Being in conversation with your child and referring to facts helps reduce confusion. Other steps parents can take include:

  • If your child has asthma or related health concern, please refer to the above “sensitive groups” question.
  • Remind children to drink plenty of water.
  • Remind students to report symptoms including coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and chest tightness. If symptoms occur, your child might need to take a break, do a less intense activity, stop all activity, go indoors, or use quick-relief medicine as prescribed. If symptoms don't improve, consult your physician.
  • Rather than walking or biking to school, children should be transported via public or private transportation.
  • If weather is cold, send child to school with long pants and a heavy coat or jacket in case the HVAC system is turned off. Conversely, if warm, please encourage students to dress in layers comfortably.

Parents are welcome to provide face masks for their children; unfortunately, face masks may not provide the protection we seek. San Mateo County Health notes, “Masks such as the N-95 are not effective for untrained users and may be more harmful than helpful for people. A properly fitted N-95 respirator makes it difficult to breathe and is difficult to use for long periods of time. N-95s may be dangerous for certain persons with lung or heart conditions. Bandanas and typical surgical masks do nothing to protect against wildfire smoke particles.” These masks may give a false sense of security. Limiting outdoor exposure is most important.

Can parents keep their children home during periods of poor air quality and will the absence be excused?

YES, parents who wish to keep their children home and have the ability to do so are supported in making that call. The absence will be excused and students will be responsible for making up the work they miss.

Under what conditions and when will SCSD schools be closed due to poor air quality?

The San Mateo County Health Department (SMCHD) and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) are clear that there exists no established number that would indicate the need to close schools. Our school district will rely on the direction of SMCHD and BAAQMD to determine the need for school closure. Should these two organizations recommend closure, SCSD will close schools. While no universal Air Quality Index (AQI) measure exists above which schools should close, SMCHD is clear that students are safer supervised at school than at home, potentially unsupervised. SCSD will not rely on the closure of other area school districts, even those closest to ours, to determine the need to close schools.

Are SCSD staff required to report to work under conditions of poor air quality and what accommodations can be made for their safety?

Yes, SCSD staff are required to report to work as per the California Government Code § 3100 & 3101. Like accommodations made for students when following “Shelter in Place,” the same protocols will be available for employees.

“It is hereby declared that the protection of the health and safety and preservation of the lives and property of the people of the state from the effects of natural, manmade, or war-caused emergencies which result in conditions of disaster or in extreme peril to life, property, and resources is of paramount state importance requiring the responsible efforts of public and private agencies and individual citizens. In furtherance of the exercise of the police power of the state in protection of its citizens and resources, all public employees are hereby declared to be disaster service workers subject to such disaster service activities as may be assigned to them by their superiors or by law.” Cal. Gov’t Code § 3100

“For the purpose of this chapter the term “disaster service worker” includes all public employees and all volunteers in any disaster council or emergency organization accredited by the Office of Emergency Services. The term “public employees” includes all persons employed by the state or any county, city, city and county, state agency or public district, excluding aliens legally employed.” Cal. Gov’t Code § 3101.

Will SCSD be required to “make up” days that schools are closed?

The District will do everything possible to avoid rescheduling a “make up” day as a result of school closures. It is within the purview of the Superintendent, in consultation with the School Board, to determine whether a waiver can be obtained so that no extra school days are necessary.  

Where can parents go to find the latest information from SCSD regarding Air Quality and school closures?

SCSD sends out communications to parents and staff via email and School Messenger. It is essential that parents and staff update their email and phone contact information at their school site when contact information changes. All communications from the district are archived on the SCSD website. At times, SCSD also activates text messaging and automated robocall systems with important messages. Parents can also visit for the latest information and to access Air Quality information.

To whom should parents and staff direct questions or provide input regarding air quality and school closures?

Site administrators are ready and available to answer any questions regarding Air Quality, school protocols, and safety.  Your first step should be an email to your school site administration. For general questions, you may contact

Below is a summary of how we manage different levels of air quality in our schools

  Green (Good)       

  • Maintain regular school routines
  • Continue outdoor recess, lunch and PE

  Yellow (Moderate)  

  • Maintain regular school routines
  • Continue outdoor recess, lunch and PE
  • Monitor all children and especially children who have health conditions (such as asthma) consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion

  Orange (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups)         

  • Open classroom doors and windows, as needed
  • Provide indoor and outdoor options during lunch and recess, with reminders to reduce physical exertion.  Children will be able to choose between indoor and outdoor activities 
  • Conduct PE indoors
  • Monitor all children and especially children who have health conditions (such as asthma)
  • Consider whether or not after school activities scheduled for the outdoors should be canceled or changed

  Red (Unhealthy)  

  • Keep children inside for recess, lunch and PE
  • Monitor all children and especially children who have health conditions (such as asthma)
  • Implement “Shelter in Place” per our Big 5 Safety Protocol
  • Cancel or change the location of after school activities scheduled for the outdoors

Please inform your child's teacher and the school office staff of any significant health concerns for your child(ren), especially those who may have respiratory challenges due to allergies, asthma, recent upper respiratory infections, etc., as we will be taking extra care with these students. ​​​​​​​Please also remember that we must have a Medication Authorization Form on file for students requiring medication at school. For students with asthma, please also consult the Asthma Action Plan.