Air ventilation in the classroom is a concern for returning to campus

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON20 — The Hawaii Department of Education does not yet have details on which schools that plan to implement blended or in-person classes over the course of the next quarter.

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But before students return, Senator Brian Schatz is calling for better ventilation in classrooms.

Doctors and scientists are learning more about how the coronavirus spreads. Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said that they are still trying to determine if the virus travels through the air as aerosolized droplets.

Kemble said, “We are still learning about the mode of transmission of the virus and the possibility of airborne transmission remains a concern.”

These concerns prompted Sen. Schatz to question the air quality inside classrooms.

In a letter to the DOE, Schatz is asking school leaders to ensure that Hawaii’s public schools have adequate air ventilation and filtration.

The senator writes, “It requires strong leadership to ensure that all schools are prepared to put these mitigation strategies into place.”

Among the questions, Schatz asked: Do schools have working fans? Are ventilation systems operating properly? What barriers has the department encountered in improving ventilation?

The President of the Hawaii State Teachers Association Corey Rosenlee said that the schools are not ready at least not by the second semester.

“He’s asked these very important questions from the DOE to show that if we were ever to do in-person learning, are we ready for it?” Rosenlee said. “HSTA’s position is that we should have 100% distance learning for all students in the second quarter.”

A Department of Education spokesperson said that the district gathered best practices for schools. Current recommendations are based on CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics and it said to use open doors and windows for air circulation and opt to use fans instead of the air conditioner, as fans can better circulate air.

The district acknowledged each classroom is unique, and schools do have the option of holding lessons outside.

Rosenlee said the uniqueness of each school is where the plan is flawed. He said windows are shut in many classrooms without the ability to open.

“We had a huge push to air condition our classrooms. In order to do that, they put plexiglass over our windows so now there’s no way of opening them at all,” Rosenlee said. “So this means if we were to bring back students to the classroom, there’s no way of making sure we will have airflow at all.”  

The Department of Education said it is preparing a response to Sen. Schatz’s letter.

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