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School ventilation a major concern as children return to the classroom

Posted at 6:48 PM, Sep 09, 2021

MEMPHIS — Dealing with COVID-19 has been a sticky situation for schools.

But at the Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, they’re turning to new technology to keep air quality clean.

“We have a new filter system being installed in the school right now,” said Daniel Weiss, the head of school at Bornblum.

Proper ventilation and air quality are part of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for keeping schools open and children safe.

“More or less it works like a human nose,” said Clemens Sparowitz, chief operating officer of Dexwet, which makes the air filters that are being installed at the school.

They are coated with a sticky substance that is designed to catch particles in the air.

“The figures get moistured with liquid and so any particle that collides with the filter is permanently bonded in there,” said Sparowitz.

Air quality is a concern for small schools like Bornblum as well as large schools like the ones in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) where more than 600,000 students learn every day.

“We upgraded to MERV 13, that’s 110 thousand filters. MERV 13s are made out of the same raw material that N-95 and hospital gowns are made out of,” said Robert Laughton, the director of maintenance and operations for LAUSD.

“We spent last summer, close to $3 million, re-wiring every air conditioner in the district, just to run 24-hours a day, 7-days a week,” he added.

The CDC recommends that air systems start running at least two hours before someone needs to be in the room. All of the improvements, big and small, can be expensive.

The COVID-19 relief bill, passed in March, included over $120 billion in funds for schools, some of which are specifically earmarked for ventilation improvements.

“The biggest concern always was, how's the air inside the building,” said Weiss.

For Weiss, focusing on air quality and experimenting with new technologies is helping him keep his students exactly where they need to be.

“There’s nothing better than having a full classroom on campus, learning with their teacher, being able to experience all of the things the teacher wants them to do. You can’t do that in the same way when you’re learning virtually. We needed to be on campus," said Weiss.