Dear Methow Valley Students, Parents, and Community Members,
The MVSD is committed to protecting the health and well being of all students and staff. Much in the same way we monitor weather to determine that travel to and from school is safe, we routinely monitor air quality in order to ensure that all staff and students have access to a healthy environment.
As a district that is regularly faced with air quality challenges due to the presence of wildfire smoke as well as periodic inversions, we have partnered with Clean Air Methow in order to develop and refine procedures for determining when and how it is safe for students to spend time outdoors. MVSD Air Quality and Student Health 2021-2022 [pdf] lays out these procedures and offers insight into how and why they were adopted, as well as providing information regarding steps taken by MVSD to improve indoor air quality during periods when wildfire smoke is an issue.
We hope this document, along with the FAQ provided below, helps to address many of the questions and concerns of our parents, students and community members. While periods of poor air quality seem likely to be a persistent feature of life in this beautiful place, the MVSD has benefited greatly from the support and guidance of Clean Air Methow in developing protocols that will protect the health and well being of our students and staff.
Superintendent, Methow Valley School District
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Air Quality Issues at MVSD
Q: How will decisions about restricting outdoor activities due to poor air quality be made?
A: The key reference point will be the two sensitive and rigorously maintained Department of Ecology monitors located in Winthrop and Twisp. During periods of poor air quality, school administrators will reference the Air Quality Index (AQI) as reported from these monitors (available conveniently and free of charge through the Methow Air app), as well as other local air quality sensors, in order to evaluate current conditions. Based on this information, administrators will make decisions regarding the amount of time students will be allowed to spend outside.
Q: What are the guidelines for restricting outdoor activities?
A: When AQI values exceed 150, MVSD students will not be outdoors for any extended period of time: we will not conduct class outdoors, eat lunch outdoors, or have outdoor extracurricular activities. With AQI values between 100 and 150, outdoor activities will be permitted on a limited basis. Students will still be allowed to spend time outside, but with reduced duration and intensity of activity.
Q: How and when will parents be notified when outdoor activities are cancelled or restricted?
A: Parents will receive notification of the cancellation of events such as athletic practices and competition, school trips, and club activities. Knowing the challenges around adapting schedules and and/or arranging alternative transportation for students, MVSD administrators will make these decisions no later than lunchtime on the day in question, with more lead time provided when possible. Look for emails through Skyward to announce cancellations. Given the importance of flexibility and the unpredictability of weather patterns and resultant air quality, restrictions on activities (for example, moving recess or practice indoors) may not be announced in the same fashion but decisions about such restrictions will be made according to the guidelines outlined above.
Q: What steps has MVSD taken to protect indoor air quality when outside air is unhealthy?
A: The MVSD has distributed purifiers with HEPA filtration throughout our buildings, ensuring that there is at least one in every classroom and activity space. Building air purification has been meaningfully improved with the installation of MERV 13 filters (the gold standard for addressing fine particulates) in our HVAC system. During periods of unhealthy outdoor air, doors and windows throughout our buildings will remain closed and indoor air quality will be routinely monitored to ensure student safety and well being.
Q: Keeping external doors and windows open was a part of the district’s strategy to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID. How will students and staff stay safe when the building is shut tight to protect indoor air quality?
A: The COVID mitigation strategies employed by the MVSD are built around a multi-layered approach to reducing risk. Regular handwashing, mask wearing, improved indoor air purification, and the opening of external doors and windows are all components of an approach that has proven to be highly successful in keeping our students, staff and community safe. Absent the ability to keep external doors and windows open, we still have multiple layers of risk mitigation that will help prevent the spread of COVID.