Parents get kids haze-ready for school

From packing masks in schoolbags to coming up with contingency plans to keep their children at home, parents in Singapore have been preparing for the new school term in the light of the haze crisis.

On Wednesday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that it should be safe for schools to reopen on Monday, if the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) remains in the moderate range.

Still, some parents My Paper spoke to yesterday expressed concern about their children's health during the upcoming school term and said they would keep kids at home if PSI levels are too high.

Ms Angeline Chan - who has one son in Primary 1 and another in Kindergarten 1 - said that if the PSI reaches about 250, which is in the middle of the unhealthy range, she will consider "grounding" her kids at home.

"I'm quite worried. The school is (an) open-air (environment) and doesn't have air-conditioning," said the 41-year-old manager of a manufacturing firm.

Ms Christine Ting, 46 - who has a son, 14, and two daughters, 12 and seven - said she will be watching the PSI, even though she feels "the PSI readings sometimes do not reflect the immediate situation".

The senior executive of a human- resource consultancy is particularly worried about her younger children, as they are of an age where they "are more susceptible to...infections".

Mr Jonathan Lau, 37, who has twin daughters in Primary 1, said:

"If it reaches the point where they have to wear masks in the classroom, we will take them out of school."

Besides tracking the PSI reading, he will be watching the PM2.5 reading, which measures fine particulate matter 2.5 microns in size or smaller. PM2.5 particles are said to be more dangerous to a person's health than larger particles.

Mr Lau, a banker, said he will be monitoring both readings, as his twins are asthmatic.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Wednesday that it is monitoring the haze situation closely. An MOE spokesman said the ministry will "take reference from the health advisories and work closely with schools to put in place appropriate measures to ensure the well-being of our students and staff".

Ms Chan hoped schools would cut down on physical-education lessons during this hazy period.

Children should be encouraged to drink more water and teachers should take note of which kids are asthmatic, she added.

If there is an urgent need to close schools,Ms Chan said that an air-conditioned area, like a library, could be a holding area for children before their parents can pick them up.

Mr Lau hopes schools will also provide some form of e-learning, so pupils can keep up with the syllabus at home if schools are shut.

Today, the 24-hour PSI is expected to be in the moderate range, although PM2.5 levels continue to be "slightly elevated", according to the National Environment Agency.