Air urgency: 6 actions will make school ventilation healthier

One suggestion from a new report: No more 'deep cleaning' days
By: | May 26, 2021
School leaders can improve classroom ventilation immediately by bringing in as much outdoor air as their HVAC systems will safely allow.School leaders can improve classroom ventilation immediately by bringing in as much outdoor air as their HVAC systems will safely allow.

Ventilation and air quality are taking over as district leaders’ top health priorities post-COVID and beyond as mask requirements come to an end in many parts of the country.

Superintendents and their teams should act quickly to invest relief funds in improving air quality in their classrooms and buildings, says a new report, “School Ventilation: A Vital Tool to Reduce COVID-19 Spread,” by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“Many K-12 schools in the United States do not have good ventilation, which has negative health impacts on health and learning,” write the study’s authors, who also encourage superintendents to end ‘deep cleaning’ days.

“Improving ventilation systems may give children and school staff healthier indoor air quality now and for decades in the future,” the authors say. “This would provide a healthier environment for non-pandemic times and potentially reduce the risks of future infectious disease outbreaks.”


More from DA: 5 things to know about making classroom air healthier


The report also covers current K-12 ventilation guidelines and details research that shows how ventilation improvements are a more cost-effective public health measure than deep cleaning of surfaces.

The report recommends six near- and long-term steps for using American Rescue Plan funds to make school air healthier:

  1. Improve school ventilation immediately by bringing in as much outdoor air as the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system will safely allow.
  2. Place HEPA air filtration units in classrooms and common occupied spaces.
  3. Use only proven air quality technologies, such as appropriate ventilation, HEPA filtration and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation. Schools should not use chemical foggers or any other “air cleaner.” 
  4. Stop enhanced cleaning, disinfecting, “deep clean” days, and any other expensive and disruptive cleaning because surface transmission is not a major driver of the spread of CVIVD.
  5. Install mechanical ventilation systems where none exist and upgrade those that do not meet current standards.
  6. Convene a federal task force dedicated to school air quality to develop guidance and accountability measures for long-term, sustainable, cost-effective improvements to indoor air quality in schools.