In New York City and several large cities across the state, all outdoor activities and field trips were canceled for students on Wednesday as Gov. Kathy Hochul strongly urged districts “who have not yet done so to follow suit.”
In New Jersey, some districts devised plans to dismiss students several hours early, while calling off after-school programs and outdoor sporting competitions.
And in Philadelphia, teachers were asked to keep their classroom windows shut, while some schools sent families a message that many had not heard in months: “Please encourage your students to mask today.”
As smoke from Canadian wildfires continued to pollute parts of the Northeastern United States on Wednesday afternoon and raise concerns over how the air quality could affect children, many school districts, from Washington, D.C. to Connecticut, kept students indoors.
Health experts appealed to families to keep children indoors as well, particularly those who already have asthma. Young people are especially vulnerable when breathing in wildfire smoke, and even lower levels of air pollution can harm them.
Communication was not seamless everywhere, however.
In New York, for example, some families reported early Wednesday that their schools still planned to hold field trips or outdoor lunches. But the chancellor, David C. Banks, reiterated that those plans were not allowed.
“We are in the midst of a serious situation,” Mr. Banks said. “We don’t want to put the health of any of our kids in jeopardy.”
City officials asked that “special attention be made to vulnerable students and staff” during school hours on Wednesday. Like many cities, New York does not set an air quality index reading that would automatically prompt school closure.
When smoke conditions remain poor for longer periods, doctors encourage using masks for children. Their time outdoors should also be limited, and adults should watch for breathing troubles, fatigue or appetite loss.
The flurry of cancellations disappointed some children who missed out on long-awaited end-of-year activities.
At. P.S. 40, in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan, a planned excursion to Ellis Island was called off, to the dismay of some fourth graders. The school’s principal told families in an email that teachers and staff would “keep an extra eye on students who have asthma or other health issues.”
Some schools went even further. At the Brooklyn Friends School, an independent school in Downtown Brooklyn, a day trip to Prospect Park was canceled — and administrators opted to close the entire school.
By late afternoon on Wednesday, several charter networks and independent schools were still weighing whether in-person classes would be held on Thursday. But even if the smoke lingers, city officials will not face the same dilemma: Traditional public schools were already scheduled to be closed on Thursday and Friday.
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