Gwendolyn Wu and Shomik Mukherjee
Editor-in-Chief and News Editor
UPDATE Dec. 7, 7:10 p.m.: Chancellor Henry T. Yang has announced all Friday classes at UCSB are canceled, in addition to the Thursday classes he canceled earlier in the afternoon.
The chancellor also said that finals scheduled for Saturday are optional, but students may take them if they have made other arrangements for themselves for winter break. Yang encouraged instructors to explore assigning alternate final formats, like a take-home exam rather than an in-class one.
Meanwhile, the Air Quality Index for Goleta improved late Thursday afternoon to “unhealthy” levels of small pollutants, up from a previous rating of “very unhealthy,” according to data provided by the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District.
ORIGINAL: UCSB has canceled Thursday classes due to “very unhealthy” air quality conditions in Goleta stemming from the ongoing Thomas Fire raging in Ventura County. Chancellor Henry T. Yang sent out an email Thursday before noon officially announcing the decision, noting also that UCSB administrators will “assess logistical issues” regarding finals week, which is set to begin Saturday.
“The campus remains open and operational, though health officials recommend people remain indoors as much as possible,” Yang said. He went on to say the administration would send out an update Thursday evening regarding the status of Friday classes.
The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) officially listed Goleta’s Air Quality Index as 227 for small particles, indicating a high level of pollution. Students and faculty, already on edge from power cuts across campus and Isla Vista earlier in the week, awoke to a sky packed with smoke and ash littering the ground. The Thomas Fire has burned over 96,000 acres as of press time and resulted in at least one fatality.
Despite county warnings that people should remain indoors, UCSB did not publish a statement until 11:51 a.m., angering much of the student body.
“The administration wasn’t responding fast enough,” said I.V. Community Services District Board Vice President Natalie Jordan. “It’s not that they didn’t respond at all, which they did, [but] there needs to be more of a reaction when it comes to feeling the pulse of the student body.”
Earlier in the day, Jordan and other students called on the university to “cancel all UCSB classes for the rest of the day” and “make it optional for all employees to come to campus” had received close to 5,000 signatures.
The petition states that students “have not received sufficient information given the Thomas Fire and its potential effect on our health and wellness.”
A letter demanding the “immediate postponement” of classes, assignments, and finals from A.S. President Hieu Le wrote that “the cancellation of classes will allow students to stay home in a closed environment and not be exposed to dangerous particulates and give them adequate time to arrange evacuation logistics.”
Santa Barbara City College, Westmont College, and school districts in Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria, Montecito, and Cold Springs have also canceled classes.
On social media, students have posted complaints about the adverse effects of air quality. Some faculty have already canceled classes. As administrators met to discuss schedule options, various services including the Associated Students Ticket Office, Pardall Center, Rec Cen, and Student Health began handing out protective masks. On Thursday morning, medical nonprofit Direct Relief set up a station to hand out 4,000 masks at the Costco Wholesale in Goleta.
The APCD elaborated in an email sent out Thursday that only N95 masks would be effective against harmful gases, rather than dust or surgical masks.
“There are not enough masks to provide one for everyone in the South County,” the email read. “These masks are best for those with sensitivities who have to be outdoors for short periods of time. These masks do not filter out all of the harmful gases. They must also fit properly to be effective.”
Residents can sign up for alerts at The Santa Barbara County Aware & Prepare Initiative.
We will update this article as we receive more information.