College Closures Due to Poor Air Quality

Dozens of colleges in California have canceled classes, some through the Thanksgiving holiday.

November 19, 2018
 
CSU Chico chancellor sends a video message to staff and students

While two wildfires continue to blaze in California, colleges have canceled classes and events to protect students from unsafe air quality in parts of the state, which, according to the pollution monitoring organization PurpleAir, is among the worst in the world.

None of the campuses have been evacuated, but most have advised students to stay indoors as much as possible with windows and vents closed and have instructed students with respiratory problems such as asthma or bronchitis to wear a mask while outside.

California State University, Chico -- located 15 miles east of Paradise, Calif., the town that was wiped out by the Camp Fire -- suspended classes on Nov. 9 through the Thanksgiving holiday. The fire never reached campus, but many students and employees have been either displaced or impacted in some way by the fire.

The university sent out the Wildcats Rise Campus Needs survey to gauge the extent of the impact.

“Our hearts are broken for the unfathomable devastation our community is experiencing. With results from just 15 percent of the campus community so far, more than 1,640 Wildcats report they have been affected by wildfires in California and 1,147 of those are related to the Camp Fire,” university officials wrote Wednesday. “Among them, 166 individuals report losing their home, and 727 have been evacuated or displaced. More than 445 are providing shelter to evacuees. Others are reporting loss of employer, loss of transportation, the death of pets, homes that are standing but damaged, health impacts from air quality, and secondary trauma.”

As of Saturday, the Camp Fire was 55 percent contained. It has claimed 76 lives, and more than 1,200 people remain unaccounted for.

This morning, the university opened the Wildcats Rise Care and Resources Center for those impacted by the fire.

“The center is a one-stop shop for counseling, academic advising, employment advice, and other important services,” a university statement read. “You’ll find Wildcats who can answer your questions about financial assistance, leaves, benefits, payroll, and housing, and point to community resources for helping with insurance and other questions.”

Smoke from the fire has reached the San Francisco Bay Area, nearly 200 miles from the fire’s origin, raising the air quality index (AQI) to over 200 and putting it squarely in “very unsafe” levels.

Stanford University canceled class and outdoor activities Friday in response to the rising AQI. Other university operations, including public safety, student services and residential and dining services remained open.

Prior to the cancellations, more than 500 Stanford students petitioned the university to cancel class or offer access to N95 masks, though it is unclear if the petition influenced the university’s decision.

The “Big Game” between the Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, football teams, which had been scheduled for Saturday, has also been rescheduled for Dec. 1. Berkeley, also located in the Bay Area, chose not to cancel class on Friday but did cancel Saturday classes.

“Campus medical staff are advising that all of us limit our time outside and refrain from heavy exertion when outdoors. In addition, medical staff advise that those who have underlying medical conditions that could make them more sensitive to the current air quality should consider staying home, particularly if they commute by foot and bike,” Carol Christ, UC Berkeley chancellor, wrote in a message to students and staff. “In that context we ask faculty and supervisors to be as accommodating as possible.”

The University of California, Davis, canceled classes Tuesday and had scheduled to resume operations Wednesday, but postponed reopening after a petition garnered more than 18,000 signatures. Students also criticized the university's response to the poor air quality on Twitter.

The university reversed its decision Wednesday.

“The chancellor regrets any stress or inconvenience our previous update caused. We are all learning together,” the university statement read. “The Davis and Sacramento campuses will be closed today and classes canceled.”

In addition to the colleges above, the following colleges have canceled class or closed due to poor air quality. See the links for detailed information about the closures.

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