Public education and ‘smoggy-day’ schedules?

In Fresno, California, public school is back in session and smog is present in the air. Every year it seems the two go hand in hand.

In an Aug. 19, 2013 San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD)-issued news release is this message: “Steps residents can take to reduce ozone levels include refraining from idling when dropping off/picking up students, carpooling, vanpooling and using alternate transportation, and refraining from using drive-through services.”

SMOG_-_NARA_-_542581.tif[1]But there is also this: “Air Alerts are declared when conditions that lead to ozone formation – increased emissions, high temperatures and stagnant air flow – materialize in the [San Joaquin] Valley. High ozone levels are harmful to health and also put the Valley at risk for exceeding the 1-hour federal ozone standard, which can trigger an annual $29 million federal penalty. This penalty is paid by Valley drivers in the form of a $12 addition to their DMV registration fee plus increased fees on Valley businesses.

“Episodes of late-summer high ozone are correlated to back-to-school traffic and increased vehicle idling,” the SJVAPCD in the release noted.

Being a Fresno resident, I am quite familiar with the term “foggy-day schedules.” During times of the year when fog is problematic – usually mid- or late October to early or mid-March, but as of late, late Oct./early Nov. to late Feb./ early Mar. – on those days where fog is particularly thick, school schedules are adjusted accordingly – either later-in-the-day school starts or outright cancellations – done, apparently, in the interest of public safety.

On days when smog is particularly problematic, what if something above and beyond the issuance of Air Alerts, say something like “smoggy-day schedules,” or SDS, whereby school closures would be in effect on account of high or dangerously high ozone levels, could be instituted in the interest of public health? I mean if Air Alerts on account of smog are issued, then it seems to me, implementing SDS would be a prudent course of action to take.

Some may look at this and conclude the notion wouldn’t get overwhelming approval or support from the community. I say: one never knows if never tried. Also, on the days where school would be closed on account of smog, it would go without saying those days would still need to be made up. I’m confident the logistics could all be worked out.

An SDS program might very well be a tough pill to swallow, but at the same time, an effort in this regard has the potential to drive home the message that smog is a serious matter that is not to be taken lightly. Sure, such SDS issuances would probably result in after-school athletic and sporting events being delayed, postponed or cancelled, but here again, it would all be in the interest of public health.

It seems to me if foggy-day schedules can be issued for public safety reasons, the same sort of implementable action coming into being all on account of the impact of smog on public health, is warranted.

The way I see it, implementing an effective “smoggy-day schedules” program would be one more positive step taken in an effort to try to protect public health and reduce incidences of high or dangerously high levels of smog.

Image above: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

– Alan Kandel