Even as Quebec is confident that the start of the new school year is fast approaching, school network experts and stakeholders believe the Legault government has not done enough on air quality in schools if the spectrum is an eighth wave of COVID-19 at the horizon.
• Also read: Ventilation works in schools: too late, according to the opposition
For several days, the Legault government has been repeating that air quality in classrooms will be safe at the start of the school year. Thanks to the work carried out this summer, all classes will be able to keep the average CO2 concentration below the 1000 parts per million (ppm) mark, which remains the target to be achieved, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said.
“We’ve done our homework [en matière de qualité de l’air], especially in the past year. It will be billed and metered,” thanks to the CO2 readers that will work in every class, the minister indicated.
Open windows in winter
However, on the school management side, we regret that the solution still relies to a large extent on opening the windows, which is far from ideal.
“It’s not always easy in winter,” says Nicolas Prévost, president of the Quebec Federation of Educational Establishment Directors. “Of course, mechanical ventilation is more expensive, but it solves the problem in the long term,” he adds.
Concerns are also great in the ranks of the teachers’ unions. “There are still many concerns, we know that air quality is a battle that we must continue to fight,” says Catherine Beauvais-St-Pierre, president of the Montreal-based Alliance of Teachers.
Experts share the same concerns. Benoit Barbeau, professor of virology at UQAM, recalls that the CO2 readers installed in all classes “are not miraculous equipment that solves the problem”.
“It’s obvious that we haven’t put enough effort into renewing the ventilation systems. The famous idea of opening the windows isn’t bad, but at -20 degrees it can get quite restrictive,” he says.
The ideal would have been to install air purifiers in classrooms like other provinces or countries have done, according to Nancy Delagrave, physicist and science coordinator of the COVID-STOP collective. “Management of air quality in classrooms is essential, especially as there will be no mask at the start of the school year,” she said.
Earlier this week, the national director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau that the installation of these devices in the classroom was not deemed necessary.
Minister Roberge is also confident that, despite the shortage, there will be “competent staff” in all classes at the start of the school year. He says the Respond Now recruiting campaign has received more than 6,000 applications since June.
“This is extraordinary […] I find it encouraging that there is so much enthusiasm,” said the minister.
Principals, however, are much less optimistic. “The story I have on the network is that we’re always looking for people. The shortage is the main concern for the majority of school leaders,” says Nicolas Prévost.
a 3e back to school in pandemic
- Waiver of wearing a mask for everyone
- Distribution of rapid tests to students
- Positive cases must self-isolate at home for at least five days
- Parents are no longer informed if there is a positive case in their child’s class
- Class closures only planned if 60% of students in the same group are isolated
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