“Ventilation, and that minimum number of air changes per hour that is recommended by engineering experts, is really critical.”
BOSTON – Most Massachusetts educators are returning to classrooms soon after Labor Day. But the Coalition to Safely Reopen Schools is urging districts to address 16 worker issues before reopening—including building ventilation.
Jodi Sugerman-Brozan is the executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, an organization behind this effort. She said face coverings help students minimize their COVID-19 exposure, but they don’t take care of the indoor air quality itself.
“Ventilation, and that minimum number of air changes per hour that is recommended by engineering experts, is really critical,” said Sugerman-Brozan.
Experts at the Harvard Education and Research Center for Occupational Safety and Health recommend school districts aim for five clean-air changes per hour. And they warn that Massachusetts schools, like elsewhere in the US, are chronically under-ventilated, often not circulating clean air even twice per hour.
The CARES Act provided some funding for building safety. But more money towards school-building ventilation in the HEROES Act is currently stalled at the federal level.
Susan Uvanni, vice president for Elementary Teachers at the United Teachers of Lowell 495, said her school district isn’t ready to reopen, and indoor air safety is an issue.
“I just want to know my building is safe,” said Uvanni, “that the air I’m breathing is being circulated appropriately. That I don’t have to have a window open in the middle of January in order to, quote-unquote ‘fit the criteria’ that it’s a safe building.”
Her union is trying to get a third-party inspector to assess building safety in Lowell. Uvanni acknowledged that hazard pay, Personal Protective Equipment, and other protections are important—but said she believes proper ventilation is what will make educators and students feel best about returning to the classroom.