School should have kept kids indoors to avoid smoke, parent says

Local parent upset kids were allowed outside; district says it took necessary precautions

A local parent is upset that the staff of Landels Elementary School allowed her child and others outside during the school day on Dec. 17, while smoke from the fire burning at Sims Metal Management in Redwood City could be smelled in the air above Mountain View.

An official with the Mountain View Whisman School District said that district staff had acted proactively to alert parents and school staff of the hazy conditions, and had advised that students not be allowed to engage in physically strenuous activity.

That was not enough, according to Connie Chin.

Chin said it was unacceptable that children at Landels were allowed outside -- even if they were prohibited from playing on the playground or running around. Chin said her daughter told her that teachers instructed the children they could read, or socialize in groups while outside for recess.

"I was pretty upset about that," Chin told the Voice. In her opinion, the children should have been kept inside, as the children at other district schools were instructed to do.

Chin said she believed the district administration did not do enough to convey the gravity of the situation to individual schools. "It was not explicit enough," Chin said of the district's directions, which were sent out in an email to school officials and parents.

Kathi Lilga, assistant to the superintendent, defended the district, saying all schools were instructed to take precautions -- which included keeping children from engaging in physically strenuous activity, holding physical education classes indoors, and keeping children with respiratory conditions inside.

According to Lilga, there was no "shelter in place" order issued by the Mountain View fire or police departments, or by the county. Still, the district did issue a warning to all of its schools -- a step Lilga identified as "proactive."


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Posted by Allen
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 20, 2013 at 12:11 am

While I understand parent's concern, I think she should put it into perspective. Carcinogens accumulate in body over time. A short period of time outside is not a big deal compared to all the other things we are all exposed to. When you put gas in a car some benzene and other carcinogens are absorbed into body. Multiply that by number of times we put in gas. What can we do? leave kids at home when putting gas? What about the smoke?

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Posted by Marialle
a resident of Bailey Park
on Dec 20, 2013 at 5:27 am

"In her opinion the children should have been kept inside"
Note that: Her OPINION, and I'm guessing, her uneducated (on the issue) opinion.
I want to know how educated Ms. Chin is on volatile toxic materials and how they affect the body before I put on my irate house mom hat. Ms. Chin is upset based on what she thinks she knows. A lot of irrational fears are based on just that.

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Posted by MV Mom
a resident of Shoreline West
on Dec 20, 2013 at 10:21 am

My son goes to day care just down the street from Landels. There was no official shelter in place called. The recommendation was to shelter in place IF you smelled smoke. In that area, you could not smell the smoke. The school could have gone either way, and it seems reasonable to me that they would cut the difference and let the kids outside but keep the activities less strenuous.

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Posted by Erik
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I am no scientist or air quality expert and this is just my humble opinion as a Mountain View resident but I work in the office building just 100 yards from Sims Metal Recycling facility and with a daughter in daycare at Sylvan and El Camino. We all remember the plastic odor. Multiply it by ten and you get an idea of the intensity at the office. Pacific Shores offices should not have reopened during that day. I agree with Connie here in that a shelter in place should apply to the young, elderly, those with compromised health and who feel it is the best option. Isn't it generally safer to err on the side of caution? Thanks.

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Posted by sEaN
a resident of Gemello
on Dec 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Well my 2 cents, (which are worth about $37.00)[Portion removed. Please don't attach other posters.] My daughter goes to Landels and she said they took every precaution they could, including eating lunch in the MUR (multi purpose room). [Portion removed.]

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Posted by Hmm
a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm

The problem was all the illegal wood burning.

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Posted by PALO ALTO Resident
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Palo Alto students were kept inside.
Thank goodness.

Happy Holidays & New Year

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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Waverly Park
on Dec 20, 2013 at 3:11 pm

As parents, we have rights and should exercise them accordingly. If Connie feels that her daughter should stay indoor, then she should have contacted the school and instruct them of her wishes.

It's not appropriate to "air" your opinion and accuse others of wrong doing just because you didn't agree with their decision.

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Posted by Landels neighbor
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm

This subject spilled over from an ongoing neighborhood email-list discussion. (The article doesn't say if the parent in question, Connie Chin, approached the Voice, or if the Voice, which has periodically acknowledged monitoring this email list, saw the discussion and initiated this story.)

In the email discussion, Ms. Chin also commented that she assumed daily exposure to exhaust from nearby Highway 85 to represent no comparable risk, because the freeway is about 200 meters from the school, a distance described by a published guideline as "safe."

Lenny Siegel, a local expert on pollutant risks, commented in the discussion that diesel and automobile benzine emissions from the nearby freeway should probably be of more realistic concern at Landels school than the brief air effects of a distant fire, which he doubted was a real health hazard to children playing outdoors in Mountain View. He speculated that officials may have overreacted to the fire, after the history of inadequate communication in major episodes around Richmond.

The bottom line: Everyday living exposes us to countless low-level chemical hazards that don't make news stories. Some of these chemicals are even produced within our own healthy bodies. Rhetoric aside, materials aren't meaningfully "toxic" (or "carcinogenic") without quantitative exposure information including dose, frequency, and other relevant factors. It all has to be put in perspective. Vehicle exhausts don't suddenly disappear at 200 meters distance, and children may be at more real risk if a parent's reasoned concern turns to panic than from brief exposure to one of many airborne pollutants. The Redwood City fire smelled bad, but we likely get 100 times stronger airborne pollutant doses from the far more familiar aroma of neighbors' fireplaces.

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Posted by To Connie
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Anytime that you feel your child should not be outside, please do come by and pick her up. You can sign her out and keep her in your house.

I (being a mom of 2 kids) think the District did a good job being proactive.

To the VOICE: Do you think you really should concentrate your newspaper efforts on ONE mom who is upset with something at the schools? If so, you will need to get a bigger staff - this will blossom. You cannot find one thing that makes everyone happy. Are you going to write about every issue that ONE parent is unhappy about? Bad precedent to start.

At least you could have spoken with a representative to see why there was no "shelter in place" order given. Or spoken with someone who has knowledge in toxins, etc.

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Posted by vkmo
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 20, 2013 at 5:00 pm

In the old days, when there was a lot of construction going on - Calif was being built -- there used to be a lot of smoke. Apart from construction, there used to be smoke from fireplaces, cars, kitchens, trains etc- which all emitted much more smoke. The environment has changed and although it's not perfect - we are exposed to much less smoke than before. Don't get excited about occasional smoke exposure.

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Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Dec 21, 2013 at 5:46 am

As long as nobody lights a cigarette, you'll be fine, just fine.

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Posted by Shmak
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 21, 2013 at 8:12 am

Does she have any other advise base on uneducated opinions to offer the rest of us? Give her a blog and send her on her way.

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Posted by SafetyRules
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Dec 21, 2013 at 11:32 am

I support this mother's complaint. If other schools in the area were doing a better job of protecting students from this toxic smoke, then Landel Elementary should have done the same. I would have been just as outraged if my child was exposed to harmful smoke. Why is everyone calling her opinion "uneducated"? We could say the same of the people who boight homes over the toxic plume near Moffett. Do we all require PhD's in environmental ecology to simply utter a safety concern? The school officials also do not possess the education to assess the safety of a situation like this, and should have exercised the utmost caution in protecting the children.

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Posted by Funny
a resident of Bailey Park
on Dec 21, 2013 at 11:50 am

No, the school should follow the directions of the people EDUCATED and SPECIALIZING in issuing the warnings. That's what they did. House mom thought she knew better than the people who's job it is to be educated on the toxins and who are in charge of issuing warnings and instructions on how to react. That's the problem. We do in fact have experts in the mater who will issue appropriate warnings based on facts. The district does not need "think they know it all" people criticizing them unless they in fact, know it all. Connie does not.

Same argument: Hey, direct sunlight is a carcinogen, shouldn't the schools exercise the utmost caution in protecting them by keeping them out of direct sunlight all the time???

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Posted by SafetyRules
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Dec 21, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I do not know which is more scary here - the toxic smoke or living In a complacent city where ones fellow citizens say shut up and obey the so-called "educated" people. Frankly my blind trust is not there, given that there is not a great track record of accuracy or honesty when it comes to environmental hazards in this city. If this ever happens again, then I would expect an elementary school to go above and beyond the bare minimum in protecting children. I think this is the point of this mother's complaint. (Look how relieved the Palo Altan above was to know that the precious children of Palo Alto were protected. I think the children of Mountain View deserve as much).

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Posted by Wow!
a resident of Rex Manor
on Dec 21, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Wow. Many of these comments are incredibly sexist. "House mom", "Uneducated opinions"? Do you know anything about Ms Chin? I don't. How do you know she's not a scientist? Maybe she actually knows more than most of you commenting here. I wonder if the child's father had complained, would you all be dismissing his concerns by saying "give him a blog and send him on his way". Just disgusting. I thought better of my fellow Mountain View residents, but I guess I was wrong.

My children are not in the district, but their private preschool in Mountain View kept them in for recess that one day. Why not? Why take the risk? I'm sure they could skip outdoor time for one day. And please, be respectful of other opinions. It's fine to disagree with someone, but you don't need to insult them. You just make yourself look bad.

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Posted by Landels neighbor
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 21, 2013 at 3:33 pm

People like "SafetyRules" completely miss the point and message of this episode, and many others like it.

An informed public is a safer public. Otherwise, people just get anxious about whatever threat they happen to hear about, with no sense of proportion or priority, and no real benefit to their own safety.

"To Connie" is right: this article would have benefitted from more explanation by public safety authorities, and from independent expertise on toxic hazards. Otherwise, it's just one person's anxiety and judgments, backed by no details or evidence. If those judgments were backed by real knowledge of toxic risks, the article should have said so; otherwise it does come off as uneducated armchair opinion, whether you like calling it that or not.

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Posted by Sam
a resident of North Whisman
on Dec 21, 2013 at 5:55 pm

The last time I checked, the school did not have 100 micron filtration in the air system. This fire was not a hour or two burn, whatever was in the air was inside the rooms too.

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Posted by Were all doomed
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 22, 2013 at 9:27 am

Shouldn't kids be kept inside and not allowed out on Spare the air days?
I know of one private school that does just that. Don't our kids deserve the same concern for their safety?
Also, shouldn't we insist the schools tell kids not to walk or ride to school on Spare the air days? What's wrong with a little precautionary inside days to limit their exposure?

Also, sunlight, don't our kids deserve the same concern when it comes to the known carcinogenic rays of the sun? We should have kids stay inside on any high UV ray day.
What's wrong with a little caution?

Now, about installing filters in the classrooms that would filter out the smoke from last weeks fire... Even when the kids were indoors, they were not protected from the toxins. A stated 100 Micron or better filtration would be needed
Oh and BTW, remember no report of actual toxins contained in the smoke has been released, so panic appropriately until there are facts to base your panic on.

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Posted by JW
a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 22, 2013 at 5:23 pm

We got the same email as Connie did from the district about all the precautions that were being taken. The smell was NOT bad in MV. But honestly- if you're that concerned, 1) go get your kid OR 2) call the school and ask that they keep your kid inside. Problem solved. Some people complain too much and some newspapers give them the platform to do so.

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