Valley kids head back to school amidst dirty air

FRESNO, Calif.

Monday was the first day back to school from winter break for kids here in Visalia, and already students aren't being allowed to spend long periods of time outside. Every Visalia Unified School had an orange flag hanging outside, warning students and teachers that the air quality is unhealthy.

Students at Hurley Elementary School in Visalia were able to take part in their usual outdoor recess Monday, but only because their recess lasts just 20 minutes. Outside Hurley an orange flag hung to remind teachers and staff that because of unhealthy air quality for sensitive children, certain outdoor activities would be limited.

Physical education was cut from 50 minutes outside, to just 15 minutes of light activity. "They would do some stretching some in place exercises on the blacktop before they went inside," said Principle Julie Berk.

Valley Air Pollution Control District chair Steve Worthley said unusual weather patterns are creating a virtual lid on top of the Valley floor. "We've not had a year like this very often, fortunately where we've had no rain in all of December. Here we are well into January, still no rain, and along with that we've had this high pressure system very little air movement."

Hurley Principal Julie Berk was following weather and air quality reports last week and knew it would have to be addressed once kids came back to school today. In fact, Berk said she has to watch out for one student in particular who can't even be outside when the air is considered unhealthy. "We've made accommodations for her to be indoors and do some free time indoors and she understands that because of her heightened sensitivity."

The air district says on a day like today it's really important to not use your fireplace or wood-burning stove, unless it's your only source of heat or your home does not have natural gas.

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