Students choke on smoky air, Spare the Air alert called for Tuesday

The Bay Area has been under a Spare The Air alert all day Monday and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has also called another alert for Tuesday. 

The alert combined with a power shutoff left some parents in the east Bay fuming sending their kids off to school.

Students from Hercules High School were let out at noon Monday after the West Contra Costa District decided the air quality was too poor to keep them in session. 

Christian Molina was getting picked up by his dad, Luis. Christian said, "I had a headache from the smoke and it was like really bad in the morning."

As far as Luis knew, it was supposed to be a normal school day even though that didn't seem right to him. Luis said, "I saw a tweet from the school district saying that the kids should stay indoors, but this school doesn't have no indoor facilities. They have to go to classes through outside."

Neighboring John Swett Unified School District kept schools open despite the air quality alert. On top of the poor air -the Crockett middle and high schools also didn't have power. 

Renee MaBon has students at both schools. She got a call last night to send her kids to school on Monday. But it was too much for her son. 

"He called me at the school and said 'Ma, I can't breathe. It's too much smoke. My head's starting to hurt. There's no lights.' They're walking around with flashlights,'" she said. 

MaBon says she made the choice to go down to the school and get him and what she saw when she arrived-disturbed her. She said there were no lights, bad air and kids packed into the cafeteria. So she called the superintendent.

Mabon recalled, "I said 'No. No child should be at school today'. Oh the air quality is not that bad. [he said] 'Are you serious? It's terrible!'"

We spoke to John Swett Unified School District Superintendent Charles Miller who said they have a plan in place for a power outage-but the air was something they didn't anticipate. "I think if I had anticipated the power shutoff and the smoke concurrently-I would've elected to close schools in hindsight," he admitted.

Miller estimated they had only about 40-50 percent attendance, but contends he followed suit of other districts who held class. In the end-they let out students early as well and he says this has been a learning experience for the district.

"You know, the smoke that filled this area was unexpected. So we're going to also look at our safety and security procedures with regards to smoke as well," he concluded. 

Mt. Diablo Unified School District on the other side of John Swett USD decided to keep their schools open but are excusing absences.

People can find real-time air quality readings here