Students deal with dirty air and cold weather

Posted at 6:41 PM, Jan 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-04 00:22:16-05

SOUTH JORDAN – Playgrounds at elementary students were empty as students had recess indoors Thursday. It’s the second day in a row since they’ve been back from winter break, but the reason isn’t air quality, it’s cold temperatures.

“We find that the majority of our inside days are prompted by temperature, not by poor air conditions,” says South Jordan Elementary Principal Ken Westwood. “I think that the two often go hand in hand.”

In Jordan School District, each school has a temperature threshold. It’s set every fall by a community council made up of administrators, teachers and parents.

“If you’re below the threshold and it’s going to be an inside day,” says Westwood. “You make an announcement. And you can usually hear an audible groan, or sigh from the school.”

That doesn’t mean schools don’t have guidelines for air quality. Westwood says his school follows the Utah Department of Health’s suggestion.

Those guidelines say when particulate matter reaches 35 ug/m3, sensitive students (those with asthma or other medical conditions) stay inside. At 55 ug/m3, students with respiratory symptoms (such as a cough) also stay inside. Above 90 ug/m3, all students are kept indoors.

Recess Guidelines Graphic

“I find, at least over the course of my career, that particulate matter in the air rarely reaches the point where you’d call an inside day for that, and that alone,” says Westwood.

Thursday indoor recess consisted of games, movies and art projects. With cold temperatures forecasted for much of the remaining week, it seems students better get used to getting their exercise indoors.

“It’s kind of fun,” says fourth grader Josh Hair. “You get to play games, and you don’t get to be stuck outside in the cold.”

South Jordan Elementary’s chill threshold is 20 degrees Fahrenheit, including wind chill.