SISTERS, Ore. - (Updating: Sisters superintendent comment)
With smoky air from wildfires still in the very unhealthy to hazardous categories, the Sisters School District canceled all classes Thursday.
"The safety of our students is our No.1 concern," the district said in its early-morning announcement. "Thank you for your understanding and have a safe day."
The school district also dismissed classes early Wednesday due to the smoke levels, the day that Sisters Folk Festival organizers made a difficult decision to cancel the weekend event for much the same reason.
The Sisters area has been dealing with thick smoke from the nearby Milli Fire and other fires in the region for weeks, often worse than the smoke also filling skies elsewhere in the High Desert.
“We have put some improved filtration systems in,” said Superintendent Curt Scholl. “However, that’s all dependent on the outside air quality and how much smoke gets in the buildings in the first place.”
Scholl said like other districts, they use the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Index chart to determine closures. But since they are a small district, they are also able to take extra steps. Scholl and the director of operations have been stepping into each of the three schools at around 5:30 a.m. each morning and visually inspecting the environment.
“Relying on the actual quality of the air when we get inside, the eye test. Can we see? Is there a haze? Does it hurt when we breathe in?” he said.
Scholl said actually being on scene gives them the best idea of the conditions. But he understands his decision to cancel classes might not always be popular.
“We don’t take the decision lightly. We understand we have working families that have childcare issues. But the bottom line is,we can’t put our kids in positions that aren’t positive,” he said.
Amid many questions from parents, the Bend-La Pine Schools created a page for air quality information and noted it uses the Oregon Health Authority's public health guidance for school outdoor activities during wildfires and smoky conditions, from recess and PE to athletic events and practices, dictated by the level of smoke and pollution in the air.
Sisters also had the worst readings in the area Thursday morning on the Oregon DEQ's Air Quality Index map page, which has been dealing with load issues due to a high volume of traffic, but you can also find out more on the smoke pollution levels at http://oregonsmoke.blogspot.com/ and https://www.airnow.gov/