OLE HAMMARLUND: Calling for improvements to ventilation in Island schools

The King government has failed to update and maintain the ventilation systems in Island schools. As the Official Opposition has pointed out, 10 schools on PEI still have no mechanical ventilation at all. Over the last two years, we have been facing the additional threat of airborne COVID transmission in the classroom. With the Omicron variant, the threat to students, teachers, and staff is even greater.

The King government’s response has been to purchase portable HEPA filter units for classrooms with inadequate ventilation. These units could be a great solution for a small or medium-sized room occupied by a few people, but they are not designed to deal with crowds or larger rooms. It is like trying to heat an auditorium with a plug-in electric heater.

A portable HEPA unit will clean the air in its vicinity but may never reach areas in the classroom further away. It is also slow, so the unit may take many hours to filter the contamination from a crowd of 25 people. They also do not bring in the fresh air, leaving it stale. This lack of fresh air contributes to students feeling drowsy.

While HEPA filters are a good tool to help keep Island students safe, they are not enough on their own. There is ample evidence that regularly airing out classrooms by manually opening the windows between classes can also be an effective way to reduce COVID transmission.

Schools will be closed for at least another week. I am calling on Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure James Aylward to use this time to make sure schools are the best environment they can be when kids go back. The Minister should ensure all school ventilation systems are well-maintained and functioning properly, and that school staff is fully trained on how to operate them.

The Minister should also provide guidance for teachers and other school staff on how to most effectively ventilate rooms manually where no mechanical system exists.

After all, these are our children. They deserve the safest learning environment possible.