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Schools stayed open out of concern for students
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Brock Elliot Elementary School Head Custodian Shane Carpenter changes out an air filter on the school’s HVAC system on Monday - photo by Photo Contributed

The Manteca Unified School District’s decision to keep schools open and on a modified schedule as air quality reached nearly hazardous levels appears to have been rooted in ensuring that every student had a safe and stable place to go. 

On Sunday night the district issued a bulletin to both parents and staff informing them that school would be open on Monday – something that caught parents off guard after widespread school closures across Northern California became the norm as the smoke from the Camp Fire reached hazardous levels across the majority of the region. 

But in a letter to his staff, Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Clark Burke reiterated the importance of making sure that schools remained a safe haven for students who might not have such a place in their lives. 

“For many of our students we are their only consistent option in the event of a crisis,” Burke wrote in an internal email to district staff over the weekend. “These kids are the center of our decision making. 

“Our educators, operations, and health services staff are integral in the lives of so many.”

With school breaking for the Thanksgiving holiday and a storm expected to roll across Northern California on Thursday – potentially clearing the air after more than a week of hazardous conditions – the situation appears to be coming to a close.

However, the district has been taking all necessary steps to ensure that students are as safe as can be while on campus. From calling off all outdoor activities – and even cancelling some indoor sports this week – to making sure that the air filters for HVAC systems are routinely changed at individual school sites, safety has been a priority for administrators throughout the process. 

Ultimately the decision to close schools would come down to a recommendation from the San Joaquin County Department of Public Health, and so far that recommendation has not been made despite schools in other parts of the state – more accurately, in areas closer to the fire – making the decision to close their doors until after the Thanksgiving holiday. 

And the district appears to have the backing of its educators in its decision to stay open. 

In a letter to the more than 1,200 teachers that work for Manteca Unified, Manteca Educators Association President Ken Johnson lauded the district’s decision and reminded teachers that not every student has a place to go when school isn’t in session. 

“The district is worried, and rightfully so, about the health of the students just as I know all of you are. It is a pretty gutsy and unpopular call to say a child’s health is more important than closing the schools when I know we’re all anxious for Thanksgiving break,” Johnson wrote. “Your own kids might receive adequate supervision and nutrition on non-school days, but the majority of our students do not. The majority of our district’s students come from homes with no parent at home during the day. 

“That’s not just our district. That’s the times that we live in as people live paycheck to paycheck.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.