As smog blankets the city today, leaving the AQI at an off-the-scale 553, Beijing’s parents are left to wonder how they should best safeguard their children – and Beijing’s international schools have responded with a combination of air filtration technology and school closures.
Beijing BISS International School is making strident efforts to allay those concerns, and took the unprecedented measure of closing the school today to allow students to study from home.
Ashley Liu, CEO of Mindwalk Studios and a parent of two children attending the International Montessori School of Beijing (MSB), says her children’s campus remained open today.
MSB administration director Gabriele Solarik says the school has made extensive efforts to meet air quality standards inside school facilities. Solarik says the campus’ retrofitted filtration system helps the school typically keep its AQI below 5 even in its gym and common areas like hallways. The system is activated and the windows and doors closed and sealed shut whenever the outdoor AQI is over 40.
“We try to be pretty proactive, and have done what we can to make the indoor environment safe for children,” Solarik says. “My own kids go here, so I’m happy when they’re in a safe school like this on a day like today.”
The British School of Beijing (BSB) is also one school that takes extensive measures to ensure safe air for students.
BSB Shunyi uses multiple air purification systems in unison across the entire school, said PR and community development manager Brenda Leung.
"First, we use the Beacon brand of filters in our central air conditioning system. Then we have installed high-specification ceiling-mounted Daikin brand air filters in all of our classrooms, aimed at reducing the classroom AQI to 10. Meanwhile, Our foyer area and hallways also feature air curtains over outside door entrances and a large-scale IQ Air filter over the entrance to the multi-purpose room."
Leung also mentioned that the air in the BSB Sports Dome is equipped for physical exercise no matter the outdoor conditions, and all of the BSB staff are trained on the school’s AQI policy as well as proper use of air purifiers in each room.
Measures taken by schools have given many parents piece of mind about sending their children to school on days when the air quality is bleak.
Elizabeth Koch, an active parent in the international school community, says both of her children are attending school as normal today. Her 6-year-old daughter is enrolled at Daystar Academy, while her 4-year-old son attends Ivy Academy.
She is pleased with the anti-pollution measures that both campuses take, such as keeping children indoors and setting detailed air purifier protocols that are outlined in the parents’ handbooks.
Yuki You, operations manager at Daystar, says that because of today’s unusually high AQI levels, students will not even play in the indoor gym but instead will stay in their classrooms, where air purifiers are running at their highest settings.
“We have a fresh air system that keeps the AQI low in the gym and common areas, but since doors are opened and closed a lot in schools, we want to be extra careful today because the pollution is so bad," You said. "We will also be running regular indoor air quality tests and posting the results on our website.”
Irene Hong, the managing director at investment banking firm China eCaptial, has also enrolled her son at Daystar while her daughter goes to Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA). While she likes that both campuses have high quality air purification systems, and that BWYA is allowing its students to miss classes today as a penalty-free “health absence”, she still has concerns about the pollution and its impact on her children’s health.
“Last night I had all three of the IQ Air purifiers in my home turned to the maximum, and I was able to get the AQI down to about 90 in our main living room, but as soon as you open a door the AQI goes right back up,” she says.
"I’m conflicted. If my children were in kindergarten I’d keep them home. But because they’re in primary and middle school, every school day is quite important.”
Eyee Hsu, whose 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son also go to Daystar, sent her children to the campus this morning per usual, but she still worries about the time inbetween classroom time, such as the commute to school in the morning, and the air in places like the gym and the cafeteria.
Hsu says she would like to see more measures enacted to address such issues, and adds that schools who display their building’s AQI levels on their websites could take even greater steps to reassure parents.
“I think it’d be great for schools to have air quality readings in every room. Daystar has an overall classroom report, but that makes me wonder ‘Is that my child’s classroom, or just the school’s average?’ Total transparency is really important."
Shane Novak, owner of Mookey Swim in Lido, says 3e International School that his son attends also remained open today, but that he was torn about whether to send him.
“I wanted to keep him home, but he wanted to go. It’s a highly emotional topic for parents right now. But 3e is actually pretty good and is putting some newly renovated air systems in place, so I’m pretty confident that what they have there is probably better than most homes or other buildings.”
At 3e, a least one IQ Air Health Pro 250 is present in every classroom, with two in large rooms, gym spaces and common areas. On polluted days the school keeps its doors and windows closed and outdoor activity is curtailed.