Yellow smoke over Nanaimo hills and trees

Smoke over Departure Bay School / Image via Sarah Robinson

As smoke flies through the air, students in the Nanaimo Ladysmith School District will be spending a lot more class time inside. This change comes as the air quality reaches a very high-risk level on the Province’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI).

The smoke comes from uncontrolled wildfires happening in Washington and Oregon—some burning just south of Grand Forks.

In a letter the school district sent to parents on September 14, they said due to the smoke, students will be kept inside with the windows closed. Moreover, the letter stated, “as we know [it] would be very difficult to have students NOT play strenuously when outside, it is for this reason, we are having indoor time today.”

The AQHI website states that children and the elderly are at high risk and should stay inside and that people should, “reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors.”

Due to concerns over having students and staff inside while COVID-19 cases soar, the school district, via letter, ensured that they will continue to provide protection for students and staff.

“Our HVAC systems have filtration that allows us to maintain fresh air while also removing particulates,” the letter stated.

The BC Teacher Federation is calling on the province to close schools until the air quality gets better. In a tweet posted on September 13, the federation said, “[t]he combination of COVID19 pandemic and extremely poor wildfire air quality is deeply concerning for #bced. Teachers and students should not be in crowded classes with no ventilation or fresh air.”

In a press conference on September 14, Premier John Horgan said it is up to the individual school districts to decide if they close the schools or not.

“I believe just like a snow day, those are local decisions and I would leave it to those people that deliver the local education service, that they’ll make those decisions based on the best interest of their communities, and that’s as it should be,” said Horgan.

In a letter sent out later Monday night by the superintendent of the school district, Scott Saywell, he said thanks to the students’ families for their continued patience and understanding. He also said the AQHI expects air quality to be at level ten—high risk—and, “if that is the case, schools will remain open and we will once again ask schools to keep students indoors.”

As of 10 am Tuesday morning, the Nanaimo air quality sits at a level 10+—very high risk.


Lauryn is a fourth-year Digital Media Studies student. She has had her work featured in the Powell River Peak, Portal Magazine, and The Discourse. When she’s not looking up fun facts about bees, she’s probably fantasying about Portland, Oregon.

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