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Saskatchewan school boards forced to react to smoky conditions

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Saskatchewan school boards forced to react to smoky conditions
Canada’s unprecedented wildfire season is filling the air with smoke and it is impacting the playground as students return to school – Sep 7, 2023

Canada’s unprecedented wildfire season is filling the air with smoke and it is impacting the playground as students return to school.

Saskatchewan has set records in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and La Ronge for the highest annual smoke hours experienced from May to October.

The metric is calculated over the course of an hour, and determined if visibility has been reduced to 9.7 kilometres or less by the smoke.

In response to the smoke, schools across the province are taking precautions.

Saskatoon public schools said they are communicating to staff that they have the option to reduce or reschedule any outdoor activities when the air quality concerns are high.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic schools say they are working on a new draft policy for when it comes to outdoor activities on days the smoke is too unbearable.

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Regina public schools will be taking a similar approach and have communicated a series of recommendations to principals and administration.

“As the air quality gets worse they are advised to make local decisions to avoid strenuous activities, drinking lots of water, consider wearing a mask outside, offering indoor recess options to students at risk…and consider taking breaks from being outside,” the school board said.

The outdoor educators have also been told to consider curtailing field trips outdoors if the air quality index is high.

There is no official administrative policy at this time, but the schools said one is being considered.

Regina Catholic schools told Global News that they are entering early discussions for a policy restricting outdoor activities when the air quality remains low — something they say hasn’t been needed until now.

Under no circumstances would classes be cancelled.

Erin Kuan, president and CEO of Lung Saskatchewan, said they commend any schools which put measures in place to protect their students health.

“Living in Saskatchewan, we’re no stranger to cold extremes and they have policies in place to make sure children are dressed properly or kept inside when temperatures are dangerously low,” Kuan said.

“So we would hope they would do something similar when our air quality is compromised.”

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Environment Canada meteorologist Terri Lang said students and teachers can expect the smoky conditions to continue.

“We’re experiencing smoke at a record level,” Terri Lang, a meteorologist with Environment Canada said.

“It’s going to be around us in one way or another, whether it’s just sort of that light tinge in the air, maybe the moon or sun look a little bit orange or there’s going to be reduced visibility.”

“In one way or another, it’s probably going to be with us until the snow does fly.”

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