Air Quality Protocol FAQ

  • Introduction

    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, MPCSD 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.


    MPCSD has developed these FAQs to help guide a parent’s understanding of our district’s response to poor air quality. MPCSD reserves the right to update this FAQ and its protocol if and when reliable information would necessitate. For specific exceptions to the District’s response due to COVID-19, please refer to the second to last question at the bottom of this FAQ.


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

    MPCSD, 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 upon which the district cannot solely rely 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, MPCSD refers to the California Department of Education's Memo on Guidelines for Schools and Wildfire Smoke. The EPA and the U.S. Forest Service launched a pilot project of what some may consider to be future of air quality maps: combined readings taken from PurpleAir’s low-cost sensors and those from official government monitoring devices, all in a single map. This article explains the potential new monitoring system that may be used going forward.

    AQI Scale 





    What measures will MPCSD take to decrease exposure when children are at school?

    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.

    • AQI 101-150 “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”: only students with a specific restriction regarding air quality on their MPCSD 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.
    • AQI 151-200 "Unhealthy": MPCSD will implement Shelter in Place Protocol. During “Shelter in Place,” 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.
    • AQI 201-500 “Very Unhealthy” or “Hazardous”: we will hold all physical activities inside for all children, including recess, P.E, and lunch.  (See exception for COVID below.)
    • 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 MPCSD monitor students who are considered a “sensitive group?”

    MPCSD 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 health 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 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 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. To report your child’s absence using SafeArrival, click your child’s school : Encinal, Laurel, Oak Knoll, Hillview.


    Under what conditions and when will MPCSD 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, MPCSD 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. MPCSD will not rely on the closure of other area school districts, even those closest to ours, to determine the need to close schools.


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

    Yes, MPCSD 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 MPCSD 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 MPCSD regarding Air Quality and school closures?

    MPCSD sends out communications to parents and staff via email, Parent Square, and School Messenger. It is essential that parents and staff update their email and phone contact information through the District Registrar when contact information changes. At times, MPCSD 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.


    How does COVID affect the district's air quality protocols?

    MPCSD follows the San Mateo County Office of Education and Health Department's Pandemic Recovery Framework for guidance on school safety during COVID. The PRF affirms that upgraded ventilation systems with MERV 13 filters and classroom portable HEPA filters (MPCSD has both) are sufficient to clean the air and keep students and staff safe even when doors and windows are shut and ventilation systems are recirculating the indoor air, due to poor air quality. MPCSD will follow the PRF guidelines for poor air quality, keeping schools open, in alignment with the district's air quality protocols.

    Recognizing that particularly virulent strains of COVID can put students at greater risk when they are indoors without a mask, should the AQI rise above 200 before lunch, the Superintendent may make the decision to close schools early instead of risking maskless eating and drinking indoors. This exception is specific to when COVID spread is particularly concerning and students do not have access to vaccination. 

    If a parent cannot pick up their child once school is closed early, arrangements will be made to supervise the child at school and provide them as safe a space as possible to eat lunch.


    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