At 7:04 a.m. on Nov. 14, dean of student life Patricia Jacobsen texted her marathon training elective group chat that there would be “no school today.”
Seven minutes earlier, parents had been alerted via email, text message and phone call that classes were canceled that day because of hazardous air quality due to the Camp Fires.
And while many students rejoiced over the lack of classes that day, many parents scrambled to find alternative child care options, especially because the school did not provide day care.
The school did acknowledge the inconvenience of the last-minute alert, however, and a new policy has been set in place for future school cancellations: School will be canceled if the air quality index (AQI) is over 200 in the Arden-Arcade area, and parents will be alerted by 6:15 a.m.
Yet while having a notification by 6:15 a.m. is an improvement, there are instances when the determination can be made the night before, which is what should ideally be happening.
On Nov. 14, however, head of school Lee Thomsen said he didn’t “expect to have to even think about closing when I woke up Wednesday morning,” as the AQI that morning was higher than expected.
But since the maximum AQI level has now been standardized at 200, there are times when predictions about whether there will be classes should be made the night before, such as what occurred on Nov. 15, when Thomsen said the AQI was so bad that he decided to cancel classes for the following day as well.
We understand that sometimes, decisions have to be made last minute, but, hopefully, this night-before notification can become the new norm.
However, these notifications went to just parents and landline phones, and for many students, having the information sent straight to their own phone and email would be much more convenient, especially for students who drive themselves to school or whose parents work in the mornings.
And doing so shouldn’t be hard — just add the class-wide email addresses so that notifications go to middle and high school students’ emails as well.
Furthermore, because nearly every high schooler (and even middle schooler) has a cell phone, a quick text to those numbers would help disseminate any information faster and more directly.
High school is a place for students to gain more independence, whether that’s from having free periods or driving themselves, but the independence is lessened if students must constantly rely on their parents for schoolwide alerts.
On top of that, many students heard and relied on other group texts with fellow students and teachers to determine whether there would be classes.
Jacobsen sent texts to both her marathon training elective group chat and her advisory group chat; a few students may not have known about the cancellation if not for those texts.
Some students were even in contact with teachers throughout the day to try to get a prediction about whether there would be school the next day.
After knowing that other schools in the area — such as St. Francis High School — had already canceled classes and after hearing teacher speculation, some students assumed that classes would be canceled and slept in that morning.
So rather than rely on teachers or fellow students to get this information, students should automatically receive announcements on their cell phones.
Since teachers get hourly reports about the air quality in the area, why can’t those go to students too, so they can stay in the loop as well?
Admittedly, the circumstances behind the poor air quality — the wildfires in California — often occur only a few times a year. But the school still needs a better notification system for other possible cancellations, possibly due to strong weather or even threats of on-campus shooters.
Originally published in the Dec. 4 edition of the Octagon.