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Air Quality Concerns

The Stevenson-Carson School District will begin on time today, Thursday, September 7th. There may be an early dismissal, depending on how the air quality changes throughout the day, in our buildings.

QUESTION: Who makes decisions about whether or not school is open or closed, starts late or dismisses early? Who makes that informed decision?
ANSWER: The superintendent or a superintendent designee. The only time our school district uses a superintendent designee is when the superintendent is not physically in the district. Karen Douglass is responsible for decisions, even when made by a designee.

QUESTION: What information is considered before a decision is made and who does the superintendent talk to gather information.
ANSWER: The current circumstances in our area are unusual and schools in our area do not have much experience in making decisions around whether students and staff should attend. The superintendent, Karen Douglass, gathers information from as many authentic and reliable resources as possible. In the last few days, she has gathered information from Skamania County Sheriff’s Department, Stevenson Fire Department, other superintendents (White Salmon, Skamania, Hood River, Lyle), Skamania County Emergency Management, and has reviewed many agencies updates on wildfire activity. Karen also reviews the air quality index and compares it to the Washington Department of Health’s recommendation. The decision to hold school is not an immediate decision, nor is it easy. Information is gathered around the clock. Things considered: active fires, air quality, road conditions (which ones are opened/traffic – will we be in the way of emergency responders), and excessive heat. When it is helpful, Superintendent Douglass also drives the school district to check on buildings and road conditions. Today, beginning at 4:00 a.m., she was on the road, simply looking at the smoke (air quality reports also reviewed) and checked the interior air quality of schools.

QUESTION: The air quality is currently at “unhealthy,” why is there school?
ANSWER: The decision to hold school provides families flexibility to keep their children safe. The school district has been clear that each parent has the authority to decide for their child and that keeping a student home is a fully acceptable option and will be completely respected and supported by the school. The child will receive an excused absence if the parent simply calls the school to provide the reason as “smoke” or “wildfire.” However, many of our students live in homes or other locations that make the school environment just as safe as or safer than spending the day at home. At school, our students are supervised, educated, provided breakfast and lunch and have eyes on them during the school day to ensure they are not having a health issue because of the air. We know that not all of our families can take a day off of work and that child care is a true concern for them on days that school is not in session.

QUESTION: Will the days we miss because of this event impact the number of snow days we can take this winter? Will the days missed cause us to go past the last day of school?
ANSWER: This is a question that completely deserves an answer; however, the superintendent does her best to not take this into consideration when making a decision. Karen prefers to make decisions based on the safety of students and staff and not the impact of summer vacation. The State of Washington requires students to attend 180 school days. If a district cancels, for any reason, the day needs to be made up later in the school year. The only exception to this rule is when the Governor of Washington declares an emergency. If an emergency is declared in Skamania County, then OSPI (Office of Public Instruction) can “forgive” some of the days missed, there is no guarantee. Furthermore, the school district needs every day to teach; we have academic goals for each student.