BUSD schools can stay open during most instances when smoke from wildfires is present in the East Bay. All classrooms are equipped with a MERV 17 HEPA Air Purification Unit that functions effectively with windows opened or closed. Additionally, filter upgrade work for poor air quality index levels has been completed on existing HVAC systems to include MERV 13 filtration. Air quality monitoring systems have been installed in all classrooms, common areas, and offices to monitor temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, particulate matter, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
When necessary, students may have lunch, recess, and PE indoors, as they would during a rainy day. COVID-19 safety protocols will continue to be followed in these instances, with students masked except when eating, and with students maximizing social distancing to the extent possible when masks are removed when eating and drinking.
Determination of AQI Levels
The district assesses AQI using several measurement and predictive tools.
We use the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) measurement to determine our AQI response. BAAQMD provides local Berkeley air quality data. This is the data that City of Berkeley Health Public Health advises the District to use to report local AQI conditions to our school community and to make decisions. BAAQMD also provides advisory messages when poor air quality is forecast.
The district also consults AirNow, which provides a regional AQI level that is updated regularly, based on a measurement station in East Oakland. AirNow does not report an AQI that is specific to Berkeley. AirNow also provides five-day AQI forecasts which allow for advance planning at our schools. We also review the localized, real-time PurpleAir AQI readings as supplementary information to BAAQMD.
Response to Poor Air Quality
The district’s response to AQI levels is provided in the chart below. In summary:
At AQI levels between 51-100, sensitive individuals (those with asthma or heart/lung conditions) should be observed to ensure they are able to manage their conditions.
At AQI levels between 101-150, sensitive individuals should exercise indoors or avoid vigorous activities. Teachers may elect to close windows, based on local conditions or when observing how their students are managing this AQI level. Coaches will reduce vigorous exercise to 30 minutes per hour of practice time.
At AQI levels between 151-200, classroom windows will be closed and students will eat and exercise during the school day indoors. Coaches will either move practices indoors or reduce vigorous exercise to 30 minutes. Schools will select the largest available indoor space(s) for lunch and maximize spacing of students to the extent possible. During smoke or air quality events, Berkeley High School will have to remain an open campus at lunch time because of facilities constraints.
At AQI levels over 201, BUSD leadership will meet to consider closing schools as a safety measure. Decisions about school closures for very high AQI level events will take place on a case-by-case basis, given that every situation is unique.
It may be the case that AQI events are further complicated by a PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) due to wind conditions in the East Bay. A power outage at a BUSD school could impact the district’s ability to implement the COVID safety precautions described in the preceding paragraphs.
All staff and families will receive a notification about a pending school closure due to high AQI levels. This AQI page will be updated with closure information and the district will post messages in social media.
Air Quality Index (AQI) Resources
- Air Quality – School Disaster and Emergency Management (CA Dept of Education): California Department of Education Air Quality Index info & resources
- Air Quality Index (AQI) Info
- Spare the Air
Extreme Heat Preparedness
Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) Information & Resources
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