Through the smoke screen

Calls for school cancellation over poor air quality display a lack of perspective from both students and administration

Andrea Perng

When I first told my mother about the smoke that had settled over the MVHS campus, the students whose faces were covered with masks and the many times I’d heard “what’s the AQI like now?” through the halls, she snorted derisively and retorted, “So what? You kids are so whiny nowadays. I spend hours in the kitchen and breathe in smoke every day just like you, and I’m fine. Stop telling your principal to cancel school, he won’t do it.”

She was right about one thing: school wasn’t cancelled. Our principal sent out three emails that said as much, but explained to us that there would be “indoor spaces” open for us to hang out during breaks. As well-intentioned as that statement was, indoor spaces would be crowded, closed or not allow food, making lunch and brunch unviable in those areas. Eventually, I found out that he had reason to say so: each classroom in MVHS has adequate air filters in them that make them a generally safe place to be, especially in conditions where AQI measurements hit over the 200s. The problem was that I found this out only after asking a teacher, not from administration directly.

I’ll be upfront. If administration had been transparent about their reasoning and intentions from the beginning, I highly doubt students would be advocating for school cancellation as much as they did. I’m a firm believer in the principle that everything happens for a reason, and administration certainly did not make the decision to leave school open without a solid reason to do so. I’m not bitter about that. What I want to talk about is the way that administration has communicated, or lack thereof, to students and parents at every step. But students are not faultless in this either: they have allowed mob mentality to prevent them from seeing long-term consequences of their actions.

Every email that has been sent since Thursday has more or less read the same way. There has been little variation between each message that tells us that school isn’t being cancelled. That’s fine and well. I’m not expecting administration to come up with a new way to say that every time they get another angry email from a student. What I do expect is for us, as students, to be treated less like children who somehow don’t deserve to know what administration is thinking when they act against student interests. Administration should have been upfront about the reasoning behind their leaving school open, which would have included telling students that MVHS’ campus was fitted with air filters that make it a better place to be in 200 AQI conditions. Instead, what happened was the release of a vague statement that they “firmly believe that our schools can provide a safe refuge for students under the current conditions.”

That being said, many of my fellow students have also displayed stunning short sightedness in their calls for school to be cancelled. Their failure to consider that there would be less socioeconomically advantaged students and staff that rely on MVHS’ campus for a safe place to stay at during the day, and that they would only be placed in further danger were school to be cancelled, exemplifies this clearly. That said, few if any of these students knew that MVHS had air filters at all, so I can understand how they acted.

That doesn’t excuse the fact that an ignorance of laws regarding school instructional minutes would actually add school days onto the end of the year, should school be cancelled. Simply put, if school were to be cancelled on Friday, it likely would have been cancelled for the few days leading up to Thanksgiving break as well, since air quality remained poor up to the middle of the week. What then? Because MVHS’ new bell schedule places it at the minimum number of instructional minutes required by state law, with zero room for snow days, everyone in the school would have been forced to have an extra week of school in early June. Seniors would have to graduate almost a week later. This is a shining instance of mob mentality blinding many students from the long-term consequences of their short-term anger.

I want to end this by saying that I don’t consider myself on the side of either those calling for cancellation or the administration. Both have acted in a way that is short-sighted at best and ignorant at worst. If nothing else, the controversy surrounding school cancellation has taken our focus off of those that have suffered real losses in the Camp Fire – there are firefighters trying day and night to keep the fires at bay so that they don’t spread further than they already have, families that have lost children, parents and grandparents, people living in tents because their homes were destroyed by the flames. Now that the air quality has begun to improve a little, it’s on us to help those that remain in need, whether that be through volunteering, donating or simply bringing awareness to charities that would be able to provide assistance.