This article has been updated.
The simple act of breathing has been a challenge for residents of the Glades, a small rural community in Palm Beach County, Florida, for as long as 13-year-old Kil’mari Phillips can remember.
In fourth grade, Phillips’ teacher always kept the classroom’s blinds closed so her students wouldn’t see the fire. One day, she forgot.
“Do you see this?” a classmate, seated by the window, asked Phillips. “Am I crazy?”Even from the far side of the classroom, Phillips could see giant flames engulfing acres of sugarcane fields outside.
“That’s when everybody started screaming,” Phillips remembered. Students from other classrooms rushed in when they heard the cries from down the hall. “Everybody thought they were gonna die.”Kil’mari Phillips stands outside her home in South Bay, Florida — a few hundred feet away from Rosenwald Elementary School and the acres of sugarcane adjacent to it. Jerry Rabinowitz
The Palm Beach County school year coincides with the seasonal agricultural practice of sugarcane burning. Before harvesting, leaves around the cane are ignited and burnt off like n... Read more