'Ash coming in': SF teachers plead for safer classroom conditions as CA wildfires impact air quality

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Wednesday, September 1, 2021
SF teachers push for safer conditions amid 'air quality issues'
The San Francisco Teachers Union says more safety measures need to be in place as wildfire smoke impacts air quality on school campuses.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Teachers and parents held a rally in front of San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday late afternoon. They demanded the school district ensure safer conditions inside classrooms as the air quality has suffered from wildfires burning in Northern California.

But it's somewhat of a catch-22 situation: "We have air quality issues. Some of our teachers have ash coming in when we have these bad air quality days," said Cassondra Curiel, President of United Educators of San Francisco, which represents teachers in the district.

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But at the same time, closing windows reduces the ventilation needed to protect against coronavirus.

As of last week, only 775 classrooms in San Francisco public schools had air purifiers. During a recent town hall on ABC7, the district's chief facilities officer, Dawn Kamalanathan, said help was on the way.

"Parents can expect to see more news from the district over the next few weeks as we both iron out funding and timing and deployment," assured Kamalanathan.

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Bay Area schools are being cautious when it comes to spotting COVID symptoms, but with allergies and wildfire smoke, it's hard to tell which is which.

The funding was approved last week by the school board, $2.9 million, to buy air purifiers for every classroom.

"In two weeks time, we can begin this sort of deployment and right now it's getting that planning ready and making sure that when we do get access to these supplies, we start sharing them with our schools, the ones that need it the most get it first," clarified Gabriela Lopez, the President of the School Board.

Some older buildings in the district also need to be upgraded in order to meet the electrical demands of having several air purifiers working at once.

In the meantime, the teachers union is also requesting that everyone in school be given a KN95 mask, which offers dual protection.

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"Does provide the kind of filtration that could improve the quality of air that an individual is breathing in addition to protecting from COVID," added Curiel.

Some parents we spoke to said they also want weekly COVID testing.

"We don't know if we have it unless we get checked," said Eugene Copes, a parent of two kids.

"We know that testing is going to be what stops or prevents us from having a large scale event," expressed Curiel.