As Delta variant cases increase in children, including several deaths, the mask and vaccination debate has been front and center concerning schools. Many do not believe school building openings are safe and that they shouldn’t open. If they open, they should be made as safe as possible. Are parents and educators examining how their school districts have improved proper airflow in each school, including older buildings?
The CDC emphasizes schools should have good ventilation to reduce Covid-19 risks. The NEA stressed how important school ventilation upgrades are to student safety.
The U.S. Department of Education released this resource to help schools improve ventilation systems, July 21, 2021.
This shouldn’t be a new issue. The Learning Policy Institute reminds us that school air quality has always been important and often neglected.
Even beyond the pandemic, HVAC systems play a major role in creating a safe and comfortable learning environment for students and school staff by regulating indoor air quality and maintaining comfortable temperature levels.
How have schools improved their ventilation during the pandemic? Have teachers who recognize the problems in their classrooms, been involved in helping administrators and those who work on school maintenance to recognize problems?
What are classrooms like?
- Do classrooms have windows?
- Can teachers open windows?
- Does air circulate throughout classrooms and hallways?
- Are there fans throughout the school?
- Do children go outside?
- How have HVAC systems improved?
- Have air filtration systems been put in place?
- Is good maintenance ongoing?
- Is there periodic CO2 level testing?
Teachers need parental support with this issue. The74 made good points, despite a negative slant about schools.
Here’s a consideration of problems in two states.
Last January, leaders in California said changes required for California school ventilation systems were insurmountable.
Some districts have recently been able to upgrade their HVAC systems using local bond money. Some hope that the Legislature will place a multi-billion bond on the 2022 state ballot to provide new money for school facilities. Others are hoping President-elect Joe Biden will push through infrastructure legislation that includes money for schools. But few funding streams are guaranteed, and they may not be sufficient to cover the regular inspections and stringent filter replacements that HVAC systems require.
Low-income students are more likely to attend schools with poor air quality and with facilities in poor condition, complicating efforts to reopen schools in ways that make them equally safe and all students and staff are protected from virus transmission
Some secured upgrades to school buildings. What about air quality improvements as students return to class?
Have the issues in this study Ventilation rates in California classrooms: Why have many recent HVAC retrofits are not delivering sufficient ventilation been addressed?
A January 2020 study of 104 recently retrofitted California classrooms with new HVAC equipment showed concerns.
- Problems with hardware, fan control, and/or filter maintenance were commonly found.
- Classrooms with identified problem(s) had higher CO2 and lower ventilation rates.
- Better oversight on HVAC system installation and filter maintenance are needed.
- Periodic ventilation system testing and/or continuous CO2 monitoring is recommended.
In July, The Boston Globe reported that during record-breaking heat, half the school buildings opened for summer school didn’t have air conditioning! During the last few weeks in July, coronavirus cases exploded there.
State regulations mandate that rooms occupied by students are no less than 68 degrees and no more than the outside temperature when it is above 80 degrees outdoors.
Making students sit in heated rooms, while teachers teach under such conditions, was unhealthy before the pandemic.
Masks are important, but how does it feel wearing one in a hot classroom? Massachusetts has some old schools. How have they improved air quality? ?
In this heatwave, how many students are returning to schools with no air conditioning? Stagnant hot air? One can’t think of a better way to transmit the virus.
School administrators and school boards should be addressing how they’ve improved ventilation problems since last year.
A description of the Center for Green School’s Report shows how school districts addressed air quality.
The responses cover over 4,000 schools serving over 2.5 million students in 24 states.
Where school districts were able to act, they leaned heavily on their mechanical systems to implement protective air quality measures for students and teachers. Of respondents, 87% increased outdoor air supply through existing HVAC systems, 77% imposed a flushing strategy and 70% upgraded their filters in at least some of their schools.
The most frequently cited challenge to implementing protective air quality measures at schools was that school buildings were not designed to support the strategies that were being recommended. For five of the six recommended air quality strategies, this challenge was top of mind. For the sixth strategy—air cleaners with HEPA filters—high cost was the most frequent challenge.
Increase fresh air through mechanical ventilation.
1. Increase outdoor air supply through the building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
2. Implement a flushing process between occupancy periods where the HVAC system runs for a pre-specified duration or until a target of clean air changes has been reached.
Increase outdoor air through the use of operable windows.
3. Open windows to increase the outdoor flow.
4. Place fans in windows to exhaust room air to the outdoors.
Remove airborne contaminants through filtration
5. Upgrade to filters with higher minimum efficiency reporting values (MERV) ratings, with MERV 13 or better as a target for removing airborne viral particles in recirculating systems (MERV ratings range from 1-16, with 16 being the most efficient filtration).
6. Install air cleaners with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters (HEPA filters are no less than 99.97% efficient at capturing human-generated viral particles).
The report also provides information about resources around the country.
How are schools fixing ventilation in your school district?
Letting ventilation issues fester, if that’s the case, reflects the push to end public school buildings for good.
Ventilation is critical to a school building being safe if it can be safe at all, during the pandemic and always. Learn how your school district has improved air quality for this new school year, and when the pandemic is over, keep checking on it and making sure school air quality is good.
Gans, F. (2021, July 4). After record-breaking heat, more than half of the Boston schools used for summer learning do not have air conditioning. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/07/04/metro/after-record-breaking-heat-more-than-half-boston-schools-used-summer-learning-do-not-have-air-conditioning/.