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Central Elementary School, built in 1815.

David Patton, Democrat-Herald

An Albany parent took her fourth-grader out of class Tuesday morning and says she won't bring him back until the district addresses air quality issues at Central Elementary School.

Brandy Riker said she moved from Texas to the mid-valley to find a healthier climate for her son, who suffers from respiratory-related allergies. 

For the most part, living in Albany changed everything. "He could play outside," she said.

Then came smoke and ash from wildfires tearing through the northern, eastern and southern portions of the state, particularly in Lane County just southeast of Linn.

And there Riker was, driving her son Tuesday morning to his first day of fourth grade at Central, only to find all the windows open to cool the three-story building in advance of expected temperatures in the 90s.

"I really hoped I would hear schools were closed," Riker said. "There was ash falling at 9 a.m. this morning.”

Air quality in Albany on Tuesday had a rating of "unhealthy" from the multitude of fires, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The National Weather Service is expecting some improvement by Wednesday, but cautioned that people should limit outdoor activities and keep children indoors if it is smoky.

Riker said she's been keeping an eye on television weather channels. “They're advising everyone, if you can, stay inside," she said. But with windows open at Central, "All these kids are just breathing it in." 

Built in 1915, Central doesn't have a central air conditioning system. Few of Albany's 21 school buildings do, said Director of Facilities Doug Pigman: Just Timber Ridge, South Albany High School, Albany Options School and Periwinkle Elementary School have full air conditioning, and some of the other schools have spot-cooling systems for computer labs, for instance.

Pigman confirmed teachers at Central were allowed to bring in portable air conditioning units as they worked to set up their classrooms last week. However, he said, the teachers were told they couldn't use the units any longer after they tripped breakers and became a danger to the wiring.

Albany Superintendent Jim Golden told the Democrat-Herald the district is following the guidelines suggested by the health department and the Oregon School Activities Association.

"Elementary kids had indoor recess today and of course parents can keep their kids at home if they wish," he said.

Riker let her son stay in class for a short time Tuesday while she tried to reach someone in the Greater Albany Public Schools district office. She said she learned schools would remain open and wasn't able to get a satisfactory answer as to whether any filtration systems or other remedies were in the works, so she brought her son home.

“He cried all day. He wants a perfect attendance, and I want to give him that," Riker said.

However, she said, she doesn't intend to bring him back if nothing has been done.

"I’m going to go tomorrow and hope that they have done something," she said. "If they haven’t, I can’t.”


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