Study Finds Schools Need Help Managing Air Quality, Disease Control

A new air quality report highlights an urgent need to better support schools with infection control strategies.

Study Finds Schools Need Help Managing Air Quality, Disease Control

The Center for Green Schools has released the second in a series of reports exploring education’s response to air quality management in the wake of the pandemic. Created in collaboration with researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, ASHRAE and Trane Technologies, the report highlights an urgent need to better support school districts with infection control strategies following their initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report builds upon the center’s previously published findings, Preparation in the Pandemic: How Schools Implemented Air Quality Measures to Protect Occupants from COVID-19, by examining the strategies and challenges from school districts encompassing 2.6 million students in more than 4,000 schools. Overall, the main focus since the initial outbreak has been on improving air quality by increasing outdoor air intake, either via mechanical ventilation or through opening windows. However, more than one in four of the districts in the study stated that there were no new plans to implement additional changes in schools.

Additionally, in terms of what guidance is being followed, the report found a decisive split between specific locations. While non-urban districts relied more on state and local guidance, urban districts leaned more on the standards outlined by federal agencies and national organizations like ASHRAE.

As a result, the researchers noted the importance of education in administrators and staff to bolster greater awareness of universally agreed-upon standards. They also stressed the importance of air quality, not just in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also as a means of preventing seasonal epidemics and increasing air quality in the wake of natural disasters, especially in school districts where wildfires have become a more frequent occurrence.

Older HVAC Systems Continue to Challenge Broader Air Quality Management Changes

Other key takeaways found in the study include:

  • The top challenge for schools continues to be implementing recommended heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system upgrades in systems that were not designed to accommodate such upgrades.
  • Demographics, locale and size of school districts did not factor into the number of indoor air quality (IAQ) measures implemented, only how they were implemented.
  • American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding was used to implement IAQ measures more than funding from operational or capital budgets, with schools stating they felt empowered through access to this funding.

In reviewing the results of the report, Donny Simmons, president of commercial HVAC Americas at Trane Technologies noted the added importance of technicians and integrators being able to offer tailored solutions to schools, stating that many of the barriers illustrated in the report have illustrated “indoor air quality is not one-size-fits-all.” While industry best practices should most certainly be addressed in these solutions, the needs and desired outcomes of the school cannot be overlooked when pursuing a healthier and more sustainable learning environment.

This article originally appeared in CS sister publication and has been edited. Nicholas Boever is DesignWell’s web editor.

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