Three questions to ask before sending kids back to the classroom | Parenting & Family

tThe COVID-19 pandemic created a new sense of urgency and focus on indoor air quality and safety. As many parents gear up to send their kids back to school classrooms this fall, confidence in indoor air quality is still a major concern across the country.

There is some evidence that inadequate ventilation and poor indoor air quality management can increase the risk of pollutants circulating in the air. Reducing residents’ exposure to contaminants can help reduce absenteeism and increase productivity for students, staff and parents alike. Even before the pandemic, a 2009 study in The Journal of School Nursing reported that cold and flu viruses caused an average of 164 million K-12 college student absences. And the fact that parents missed work to care for sick children contributed to total productivity losses that cost employers in the United States $225.8 billion a year, the CDC said.

A school’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can implement solutions that can help mitigate such threats. Still, 41% of school districts had to renew or upgrade HVAC systems in at least half of their schools by 2020. This means that an estimated 36,000 schools across the country are experiencing inadequate indoor air quality.

These risks do not have to remain undiminished. President Biden’s US bailout plan earmarked $130 billion for school improvements. This funding provides the opportunity for necessary upgrades for the many schools in need.

Three questions to ask your school district

Recent innovations in HVAC make it easier to assess, reduce, and manage indoor air quality while keeping school district budgets and nationwide sustainability goals in mind.

Parents can get involved to ensure federal funding addresses the challenges their local schools face. As local districts begin to point to dollars, here are three questions to ask:

• Does my child’s school have an updated air quality plan, including maintenance and service?

• Will our district spend stimulus dollars to invest in HVAC improvements to improve indoor air quality?

• Does my school district have a plan to measure the effectiveness of these investments?

• There are four important factors for healthier indoor air quality that contribute to a more optimal indoor climate:

• Thinning (increased ventilation with outside air),

• Extraction (ensures that lower quality air is discharged into the room),

• Contain (control humidity), and

• Clean (use air cleaning technology and filter options, if applicable).

“As a parent with a daughter in elementary school, our family is eager to return our daughter to the high-quality, personalized learning environment she experienced as a kindergarten teacher,” said Scott Huffmaster, Healthy Buildings Leader, Trane Technologies.

The best place to start is with a data-driven assessment of current indoor air quality. A large Texas school district recently partnered with Trane to assess indoor air quality at some of its schools. The evidence-based assessment provided insight into actionable strategies tailored to the needs of the district and in line with the latest industry guidelines.

Every facility needs a tailor-made evaluation and approach. For example, increased use of disinfectant sprays and wipes to clean surfaces can emit unhealthy substances that affect air quality. Simple approaches, such as opening windows or fans to increase airflow, don’t always work for areas with high humidity or pollution, and can increase energy consumption.

New and emerging technologies can also help. After considering building HVAC system conditions, outdoor air, and other considerations, leaders of the Adams 14 School District outside Denver installed Synexis® Spheres on all campuses—an innovative technology that captures naturally occurring oxygen and humidity in the air is used to vaporize dry hydrogen peroxide that continuously and significantly reduces the presence of contaminants in the air and on surfaces. This resident-approved, effective, low-maintenance option has helped improve indoor air quality across the district without negatively impacting energy efficiency and operating costs.

The science, funding and innovation are at your fingertips to meet the needs of every school district. Consider asking if your school district addresses these concerns to provide a better indoor environment for students to learn.

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