VANCOUVER -- When snow and ice make it difficult for teachers and students to safety get to work, schools can call a snow day. With wildfire smoke blanketing parts of the South Coast during a pandemic, some teachers want districts to call a smoke day.

“I think schools need to close until the air quality improves to safe levels,” said Greater Victoria Teachers Association president Winona Waldron. “If it it weren’t for the added danger of a pandemic, sure, keep kids inside, close the windows and doors. But we’ve been told to keep kids safe in schools, we have to have windows and doors open and lots of fresh air ventilation. And that’s just not possible.”

She says if skies are smoky again on Tuesday, school districts should call a smoke day and let teachers and students stay home. But the provincial health officer disagrees.

“It is perfectly safe for people to be in the school, but we don’t want the windows open, we want to reduce the amount of smoke that’s coming in,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry. “And that is something different than what we’ve been saying, where we want to increase ventilation.”

But Waldron argues closing windows increases the chance teachers and students can spread COVID-19. “We are in a pandemic, and this is an an added risk. We don’t need more risk right now,” she said, adding she’s heard some teachers with asthma and other breathing issues stayed home from work on Monday.

While Dr. Henry argues many students are safer at schools with ventilation systems than they are at home, Waldron says “At home you’re not exposed to COVID-19 at the same time as the smoke, so you’re only having to mitigate one of the dangers.”

Premier John Horgan says ultimately the decision to cancel school lies with individual districts. “I believe that, like a snow day, that’s a local decision and I would leave it to those people who deliver the education service who have employees, teachers support staff and others that they will make those decisions based on the best interest of their communities.”

So far, no B.C. school districts have called a smoke day on Tuesday.