Citing Health Risks, Student Launches Petition To Close Schools [Updated]

A San Francisco high school senior launched a petition calling for the city to cancel classes today. Emily Montiel, who attends Galileo Academy of Science and Technology, says the air inside her school “is unhealthy and not safe for students to be breathing.”

As of this writing, the petition has gathered 14,255 signatures.

Via Facebook Messenger, Montiel told Hoodline that administrators are “absolutely not giving us any sort of protection.” Since smoke started drifting over the city, she said she’s experienced “shortness of breath, as well as a bad cough and it’s only gotten worse.”

The school district announced on Twitter yesterday that classes would be in session today, but noted it was working with the Departments of Health and Emergency to “monitor the situation” and advised schools to keep students indoors.

Gaileo Academy of Science and Technology. | Photo: Google

“Schools are not enforcing that rule at all,” said Montiel, who serves as a peer resources student, part of a district-wide program that encourages students to identify and help solve problems within the school environment.

“Students need to be given the chance to rest and stay indoors in a well-ventilated area, as some people are already feeling the affects of the air,” she said.

Apart from the air quality inside schools, Montiel added that many Galileo students “commute more than an hour,” which prolongs their exposure to wildfire smoke.

Montiel said teachers have closed windows to prevent ash from flying into classrooms, but because the school, built in 1921, isn’t air-conditioned, “this has made our classrooms extremely hot and stuffy,” she said, adding that the size of Galileo’s campus means students must walk for extended periods.

Respiratory masks wouldn’t improve the situation, added Montiel. “If all students were given masks, we wouldn’t be able to participate in classroom discussions because we would not be able to communicate properly.”

The last time SFUSD had a district-wide closure was in December 2014, due to severe winter storms.

“If the district cancelled school over a rainstorm three years ago, then air filled with carcinogens should be held at a much higher degree of concern,” said Montiel.

We’ve reached out to an SFUSD spokesperson for comment and will update this story if we receive a response.

[Update: 10/17] Via email, SFUSD spokesperson Gentle Blythe provided a statement:

We are aware of the concerns raised by some of our students, families and staff about the city's air quality and attending school today.

The decision was made with the input of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

We will remain in close contact with all city agencies regarding the air quality and provide immediate updates to our entire community as necessary.

We are also aware of the Change.org petition to close schools. The petition reflects comments we are seeing on social media.

We would like to note:
  • Cancelling school can put a tremendous burden on families who would need to make additional arrangements for childcare.
  • Families who are concerned about their child's health can elect to keep their child home.
  • We have alerted schools that for parents who keep their child at home it is an excused absence.
  • Staff members having any difficulties can alert their supervisor and stay home if they choose.
  • For a large number of our students, school buildings may be better ventilated than their homes.

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Citing health risks student launches petition to close schools