Families & Community » Air Quality Protocols

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.


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. When the Air Quality index is good to moderate, we will maintain regular school routines, continue outdoor recess, lunch and P.E. Our priority is to maintain safe in-person learning for students.


Keeping Track of Air Quality
Consistent with the County Office of Education and the San Mateo County Health Department, SCSD uses Air Now to monitor the Air Quality Index (AQI). 

School Air Quality Activity Recommendations
SCSD refers to the guidelines from the School Air Quality Activity Recommendations, a document developed with content from the California Department of Education to inform our decisions for caring for students who have asthma and/or other respiratory health concerns. Below is a summary of how we manage different levels of air quality in our schools when students are on site.

- See our Frequently Asked Questions below - 

Reading the Air Quality Index

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a representation of air pollution concentration levels. It assigns numbers on a scale between 0 and 500 and is used to help determine when air quality is expected to be unhealthy Based on federal air quality standards, the AQI includes measures for six major air pollutants: ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and two sizes of particulate matter. In the Bay Area, the pollutants most likely to prompt a Spare the Air Alert are ozone, between April and October, and particulate matter, between November and February.

Each AQI number refers to specific amounts of pollution in the air. For most of the six pollutants represented by the AQI chart, the federal standard corresponds with a number of 100. If the concentration of a pollutant rises above 100, air quality can be unhealthy for the public.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


SCSD has developed these FAQs to help guide 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 it.



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

SCSD follows the recommendations from the School Air Quality Activity Recommendations, developed with content from the California Department of Education.


  • When the Air Quality Index (AQI) is good to moderate (with an AQI level of 0-100) we will maintain regular school routines, and continue outdoor recess, lunch and P.E.  

  • At the orange level (AQI of 101-150), we will close classroom doors and windows, as needed, provide indoor and outdoor options during lunch and recess, with reminders to reduce physical exertion and ensure sensitive individuals* exercise indoors or avoid vigorous outdoor activities.

  • At the red level (AQI of 151-200), the state recommends sensitive students* remain indoors and others avoid vigorous outdoor activities for recess and P.E.  We may consider whether or not after-school activities scheduled for the outdoors should be canceled or changed.

  • If the air quality enters the purple range (AQI of 201+) we will implement our Shelter-in-Place Protocol. During “Shelter-in-Place,” students and staff may move freely inside buildings, and teaching and work continue. 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. Additionally, at this level the state says districts may close schools on a site-by-site basis.
  • If the air quality enters the maroon range (301-400), we would expect a health warning of emergency conditions as everyone is more likely to be affected. There will be no outdoor activity, all activities should be moved indoors.
​​* Sensitive Individuals include all those with asthma or other heart/lung conditions. 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.

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.


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, AirNow.gov, and Bay Area Air Quality Management District, BAAQMD.gov. 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 that 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.

How has SCSD Improved Air Quality in our Schools?
Indoor airborne particles can be removed in two ways: ventilation (air exchange) and filtration (removing particles from the air). SCSD has HVAC systems with Merv 11 filters and HEPA hospital-grade air purifiers to catch particulate matter and improve air quality. All units are serviced quarterly and documented. Opening windows and doors further layers this support, but when air quality is compromised by smoke from wildfires, we will defer to the guidance from the San Mateo County Office of Education and close windows and doors based on that guidance. 

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

SCSD refers to the recommendations from the School Air Quality Activity Recommendations, a document developed with content from the California Department of Education 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.


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 concerns, 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 the weather is cold, send children to school with long pants and a heavy coat or jacket in case the HVAC system is turned off. Conversely, if it is warm, please encourage students to dress in layers comfortably.


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.


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 visit this page 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?

Principals 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 principal. For general questions, you may contact [email protected].


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.