Opinion

Published on December 15th, 2017 | by Chelsea Seifer

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Smoke protocol on campus

According to CA.gov fire statistics, California experienced 6,762 fires in 2017. And yet, the best SMMUSD had prepared was deciding thirty minutes through the second period of the day that smoke inhalation is dangerous, sentencing us all to a crash minimum day without taking into account teacher plans, winter concerts, rehearsals, sports games or finals. As students, the month of December is already more like ‘DIEcember’ due to our copious amounts of work and final exams. The last thing we need is to waste a three days at home and further crowd our already busy schedules. Personally, I am an honors and AP student, have 19 quizzes and tests this month, not including finals. And now because of our glorified weekend, my AP Chemistry test is now delayed three days. I now have four tests on Friday, as opposed to the none I would’ve had if school had gone on. So now, because of parents, I get to stress about upcoming exams three days longer than I would have. Rather than destressing from the minimum days off, my stress increases. The people who these decisions affect should be the ones making them. After all, it won’t be the Superintendent all day Wednesday and Thursday studying with anxiety, it will be me. And I would rather the district concern itself with my education, not my respiration.

We all live in the Greater Los Angeles area, and we all have tasted the sweet taste of pollution in our lives. However, the fact that the fires broke out early morning Tuesday wasn’t some big secret. The information wasn’t classified. So the fact that we were sent to school anyways that day just to be taken out hours later is frustrating. If the smoke was such a problem, why didn’t they cancel the day? It’s not like it got significantly worse in a matter of minutes. It was just as toxic upon arrival as it was when we left. You would think that a district housing hundreds of thousands of students in drought-ridden Southern California would have a backup plan for fires. Or a plan at all. Anything better than, “hurry up class and evacuate.”

The evacuation plan doesn’t take into account many factors, such as the fact that many Samo students don’t live 10 minutes from school. They have both parents working from 9 to 5, who can’t just drop everything to pick their kids up at 11 a.m. Evacuating was counterproductive. The aim was to minimize exposure yet hundreds were stranded at the Michigan gate alone waiting for parents.

They said they evacuated us because inhalation is dangerous, but did they really? If they were truly worried about our health, would it really have been so difficult to distribute facial masks? A fifty-count box of facial masks is $6.10 at Walmart. With Samo’s census, it would cost less than $370 to give every student one; less than thirteen cents per student. If Samo had a protocol in place, they could ask each student to provide said thirteen cents for themselves annually. And then Samo wouldn’t even have to pay anything. But no. SMMUSD would rather cost us our education than pay a fiscal price.

And yet, while we were avidly inhaling the smokey air mask-less, they didn’t cancel school. They simply shortened it, making classes just “long enough” to count. What is the point of having school if classes are 60 seconds longer than passing periods?

So if not about curriculum or health, what was the logic behind the protocol? The decision to keep us was clearly concerned with economics, not education. Samo is paid a certain dollar amount for each student present every day, which is because we have such a restrictive attendance policy. More students, more money. So they chose not to cancel school, but to shorten it instead. This way they get their money. Because while smoke inhalation is the cause of death in 50-80% of all fire-related incidents, it’s not dangerous enough to make it worth the price of funding.

At Lincoln Middle School, security guards turned students away from gates because they felt it was unsafe. They sent them straight home. Yet Samo students had a full A.M. class, first period and nearly all of second before admin decided to do something about it. At what point in time did our middle school security guards gain more common sense than doctorated administrators?

Following the day-long administrative debacle, the fighting continued online. Students protested SMMUSD twitter accounts, tweeting “#notmydistrict” and wanting to walk out in revolt. How did we go from a public school to the Trump administration, insulting on social media and uniting through hashtags?

Tweets like, “this is amusing when schools claim they care about students but then allow us to go to school saying it’s safe. Stop caring about money.”God I love inhaling ash.” “Parents have the right to decide? Hahaha then it should have been a PARENT decision if the schools should open or not, not some board who’s money-hungry. There should’ve been a parent meeting.”

We’re supposed to be a community. A 3,000 person family. In a time where we’re all coughing too much to speak up and our eyes are too red to see, we’ve let the flames of Ventura County burn bridges. We’ve descended into madness. The ash will last a few more days, a week at most. But the anarchy that took place in person and in the cyber world will have wreaked havoc on the educator-student trust. It will not pass. Students with asthma are scared to go outside without oxygen masks. But in fear of losing allowed absences, these students are risking respiratory failure for attendance. Yet students ten minutes north at Palisades Charter High School don’t have to choose between their lungs or learning. I just want to know where the consistency is. It seems like with every natural challenge we face — heat waves, fire ash — SMMUSD has a new excuse each time. The only thing we can count on is that there is no plan or protocol in place.

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