Open Letter to Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Steven D. Herrington, Ph.D. Regarding Sonoma County Schools Air Quality Guidelines (for school closure)

Update: there is a petition gathering signatures to ask for a change to the guidelines.

Update 2: My response to some comments about assuming students’ home air quality is better than schools is at the bottom below references . Click to jump to the update

Update 3: A Spanish translation of the post and table. Click to jump to the translation.
Una traducción al español del post y tabla. Haga clic aquí para saltar a la traducción al Español

November 18, 2018

Dr.  Steven D. Herrington, Ph.D.
Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools
Sonoma County Office of Education
5340 Skylane Boulevard
Santa Rosa, CA 95403-8246

To Dr. Steven D. Herrington:

I am writing in regards to the new Sonoma County Schools Air Quality Guidelines published on November 13, 2018. As a parent of three children in Sonoma County schools and as an educator who teaches in a Sonoma County school I am incredibly concerned and disturbed by the guidelines that you and the district superintendents decided on. The Air Quality Index (AQI) at which schools are to be closed is obscenely high.

Language impacts understanding. We cannot discuss or understand that for which we don’t have words or context. At the Santa Rosa City Schools board meeting on Wednesday, November 14th Superintendent Diann Kitamura stated in her report that, “We don’t have an Air Quality Index … for children. The AQI that has been put out is actually for adults.”  In making your recommendations you used a table that was centered around adults, not children. I think that this is the piece that was missing during your discussions on November 13th that led you to set 275 AQI as the level for school closure. A level that I believe is much too high for student safety.

We need to reframe the AQI in order to center the discussion around children instead of adults. I rebuilt your AQI chart to reframe its language around children (see attached). All children are part of the sensitive group as defined by the AQI table that you used to come up with your recommendations. This means unhealthy for children is one step higher (more dangerous) on the table than unhealthy for non-sensitive adults. By this logic what is unhealthy for adults is very unhealthy for children and what is very unhealthy for adults is hazardous for children. Following this logic the 275 AQI is 75 points into the hazardous range for children. Worse, this is 75 points into the very hazardous range for sensitive children.

As a parent and educator I insist that you immediately address this problem and issue new guidelines that do a better job of protecting our children. I propose that you set the mandatory closure AQI at 200. This would be at the beginning of the hazardous for children range. I also propose that for 150-200 AQI, the very unhealthy range for children, closure be at district discretion. This would bring Sonoma County’s guidelines in line with Lake County’s guidelines. Their guidelines were “Prepared in collaboration with and approved by Lake County Public Health Division” while Sonoma County’s guidelines were “Prepared in collaboration with the county’s 40 school districts”. I think this is informative about why Lake County’s guidelines have stricter requirements than Sonoma County’s.

I understand the need to balance the health and safety of children with their educational needs and the parents’ need to work. On Friday the 16th my children’s school was closed while my school was still open and it added a lot of stress into my family’s day figuring out child care on almost no notice. However, I strongly believe that we need to err on the side of protecting our students’ health. The long term effects on children after being exposed to very unhealthy (150-200 AQI) or hazardous levels (>200 AQI) of air pollution is severe. Our schools are simply not equipped to protect students from dangerous levels of pollution. On your guidelines under Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (children) you state “All doors and windows must remain closed throughout the day.”  This is literally impossible at any school site that has portables or requires students to go outside to access the restroom or to change classrooms. Every school site that I have visited in Sonoma County has at least one of these issues. This makes it impossible to protect our students appropriately at any site with these issues. I teach at an elementary school in a portable. On Friday my door was opened at least thirty (30) times over the course of the day. Every time the door was opened the unhealthy air, including visible pieces of ash, swirled into the classroom. The PurpleAir sensor located at the Sonoma County Center, 2000 ft from my school, started the day at 185 AQI and rose as high as 238 AQI at 11:20am as all of the students were required to go outside in order to walk to the cafeteria for lunch. How is this better than having students safely at home?

As a parent and as an educator I implore you to immediately reconvene the superintendents and revise your guidelines to align them to the revised chart I supplied where children are the focus. Set the mandatory closure rate to 200 AQI and give districts the discretion to close between 150 and 200 AQI. This will better protect our students while giving districts the flexibility to make the call about closing their school sites the night before allowing families more time to address child care. I request you take these actions immediately as other counties are looking at our guidelines and it is essential that revised guidelines be made available before they use your current ones to put their students at unnecessary levels of risk. Indeed Mendocino County has already copied Sonoma County’s recommendations.

Thank you very much for addressing this issue immediately.


Micah Carlin-Goldberg

Parent – Wilmar Union School District
Educator – Santa Rosa City Schools
CC: Superintendent Diann Kitamura – Santa Rosa City Schools
CC: Superintendent/Principal Sheila Garvey – Wilmar School District
CC: County Superintendent Michelle Hutchins – Mendocino County

Child Centered AQI Table Text readable version located at

Creative Commons License  Air Quality Index with Child Centered Language by Micah Carlin-Goldberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at (accessed 11/16/2018)


Update 11/19:

A couple of people gave me feedback that wrote this piece assuming that they have better air quality at home.

I did not assume that students have great air quality at home. I believe that my students get less exposure staying at home then coming to school even with possible poor air quality at home. On Wednesday one of our buses was late picking up in the morning (not unusual) so all of the students from that bus spent 20+ minutes standing on the side of the road waiting in the bad air. No masks. Others walk or ride their bikes to school. No masks. They come to school and in the case of the upper grade students are in portables that are ancient with ancient HVAC systems. Even if the HVAC were new, the door to the outside gets opened 30+ times even while doing everything in our power to keep the door shut as much as possible. They have to walk outside to use the bathroom. They have to walk outside to go to the cafeteria for lunch. On Friday the AQI was 238 when my class walked to lunch. One student had a mask out of 26. We have 420+ students at my site. I saw maybe a dozen masks total on all students at dismissal.

When I wrote the letter I didn’t assume my students had great air quality at home. I looked at the conditions they were required to endure by coming to school and determined they were better off at home when the AQI is above 150.

As a side note. Three of the HVAC systems at my site either failed entirely or had to be shut down because they were pushing visibly smoky air into classrooms on Wednesday. The district is working on fixing them but they weren’t fixed by Thursday and in one case by Friday. On Friday a fourth one started spewing a chemical smell.

This is not unique to my site or my school district. Our schools in Sonoma County are old and run down, which makes them much less safe than anyone who doesn’t work at a school site daily understands.

None of this is to say that the school districts aren’t doing their best for students. Santa Rosa City Schools is in the process of upgrading all air filters in the district to MERV 13 standard which stops the 2.5PM pollutants (the current MERV 8 do not). That does not mean that there isn’t more that can be and needs to be done.

Traducción al Español

18 de noviembre de 2018

Dr. Steven D. Herrington, Ph.D.
Superintendente de Escuelas del Condado de Sonoma
Oficina de Educación del Condado de Sonoma
5340 Skylane Boulevard
Santa Rosa, CA 95403-8246

Al Dr. Steven D. Herrington:

Estoy escribiendo sobre las nuevas Pautas de Calidad del Aire de las Escuelas del Condado de Sonoma publicadas el 13 de noviembre de 2018. Como padre de tres hijos en las escuelas del Condado de Sonoma y como educador que enseña en una escuela del Condado de Sonoma, estoy increíblemente preocupado y perturbado por el Pautas que usted y los superintendentes de distrito decidieron. El índice de calidad del aire (AQI) en el que se cerrarán las escuelas es obscenamente alto.

El lenguaje impacta la comprensión. No podemos discutir o entender aquello para lo que no tenemos palabras o contexto. En la reunión de la junta de las Escuelas de la Ciudad de Santa Rosa el miércoles, 14 de noviembre, la Superintendente Diann Kitamura declaró en su informe que “no tenemos un Índice de Calidad del Aire … para los niños”. El AQI que se ha distribuido es en realidad para adultos “. Al hacer sus recomendaciones, utilizó una tabla centrada alrededor de adultos, no de niños. Creo que esta es la pieza que faltaba durante sus discusiones del 13 de noviembre que lo llevó a establecer 275 AQI como el nivel para el cierre de la escuela. Un nivel que creo que es demasiado alto para la seguridad de los estudiantes.

Necesitamos replantear el AQI para centrar la discusión alrededor de los niños en lugar de los adultos. Reconstruí su carta AQI para replantear su lenguaje alrededor de niños (ver adjunto). Todos los niños forman parte del grupo sensible como se define en la tabla de AQI que solía hacer con sus recomendaciones. Esto significa que insalubre para los niños es un paso más alto (más peligroso) en la tabla que insalubre para adultos no sensibles. Según esta lógica, lo que no es saludable para los adultos es muy poco saludable para los niños y lo que es muy poco saludable para los adultos es peligroso para los niños. Siguiendo esta lógica, el 275 AQI está a 75 puntos en el rango peligroso para niños. Peor aún, esto es 75 puntos en el rango muy peligroso para los niños sensibles.

Como padre y educador, insisto en que aborde de inmediato este problema y emita nuevas pautas que hagan un mejor trabajo para proteger a nuestros niños. Propongo que establezca el AQI de cierre obligatorio en 200. Esto sería al principio del rango peligroso para niños. También propongo que para 150-200 AQI, el rango muy poco saludable para los niños, el cierre sea a discreción del distrito. Esto alineará las pautas del Condado de Sonoma con las pautas del Condado de Lake. Sus pautas fueron “Preparadas en colaboración con y aprobadas por la División de Salud Pública del Condado de Lake”, mientras que las pautas del Condado de Sonoma fueron “Preparadas en colaboración con los 40 distritos escolares del condado”. Creo que esto es informativo acerca de por qué las pautas del Condado de Lake tienen requisitos más estrictos que los del Condado de Sonoma.

Entiendo la necesidad de balancear la salud y la seguridad de los niños con sus necesidades educativas y la necesidad de los padres de trabajar. El viernes 16, la escuela de mis hijos se cerró mientras mi escuela aún estaba abierta y eso generó mucho estrés en el día de mi familia al descifrar el cuidado de niños casi sin previo aviso. Sin embargo, creo firmemente que debemos errar para proteger la salud de nuestros estudiantes. Los efectos a largo plazo en los niños después de haber estado expuestos a niveles muy poco saludables (150-200 AQI) o peligrosos (> 200 AQI) de contaminación del aire son graves. Nuestras escuelas simplemente no están equipadas para proteger a los estudiantes de niveles peligrosos de contaminación. En sus pautas bajo insalubre para grupos sensibles (niños), usted declara: “Todas las puertas y ventanas deben permanecer cerradas durante todo el día”. Esto es literalmente imposible en cualquier escuela que tenga salones portátiles o que requiera que los estudiantes salgan afuera para acceder al baño o para cambiar de salon. Cada sitio escolar que he visitado en el Condado de Sonoma tiene al menos uno de estos problemas. Esto hace que sea imposible proteger a nuestros estudiantes adecuadamente en cualquier sitio con estos problemas. Enseño en una escuela primaria en un portátil. El viernes, mi puerta se abrió al menos treinta (30) veces a lo largo del día. Cada vez que se abría la puerta, el aire insalubre, incluidas las piezas visibles de ceniza, se arremolinaba en el salon. El sensor de PurpleAir ubicado en el Centro del Condado de Sonoma, a 2000 pies de mi escuela, comenzó el día a 185 AQI y se elevó a 238 AQI a las 11:20 am, mientras que todos los estudiantes necesitaban salir del salón para ir a la cafetería para el almuerzo. ¿Cómo es esto mejor que tener estudiantes seguros en casa?

Como padre y como educador, le suplico que vuelva a reunirse de inmediato con los superintendentes y revise sus pautas para alinearlas con la tabla revisada que proporcioné donde los niños son el enfoque. Establezca la tasa de cierre obligatorio en 200 AQI y otorgue a los distritos la discreción de cerrar entre 150 y 200 AQI. Esto protegerá mejor a nuestros estudiantes mientras les da a los distritos la flexibilidad de hacer la llamada sobre el cierre de sus escuelas la noche antes de permitirles a las familias más tiempo para ocuparse del cuidado infantil. Solicito que tome estas medidas inmediatamente, ya que otros condados están observando nuestras pautas y es esencial que las pautas revisadas estén disponibles antes de que usen las actuales para poner a sus estudiantes en niveles innecesarios de riesgo. De hecho, el Condado de Mendocino ya ha copiado las recomendaciones del Condado de Sonoma.

Muchas gracias por abordar este problema de inmediato.


Micah Carlin-Goldberg

Padre – Wilmar Union School District
Educador – Escuelas de la ciudad de Santa Rosa

CC: Superintendente Diann Kitamura – Escuelas de la ciudad de Santa Rosa
CC: Superintendente / Directora Sheila Garvey – Distrito escolar de Wilmar
CC: Superintendente del Condado Michelle Hutchins – Condado de Mendocino

Child Centered AQI Table vert esp