Fundraiser looks to community as two thirds of TVDSB classrooms lack HEPA air filtration units 

As students prepare for the return of in-person learning, a local school board trustee is urging the community to help bring air filtration units to more classrooms.

“The (provincial) government understands the importance of HEPA filter units, yet we are not getting enough to put them in every classroom,” explains Corrine Rahman, a trustee at the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB).

According to TVDSB administration, only about 1,400 of the board’s estimated 4,000 classrooms currently have portable HEPA air filtration units.

Almost two out of every three classrooms will reopen without a unit when in-class learning resumes Monday, Jan. 17.

Rahman is encouraging the community to contribute what they can to a fundraiser by the Thames Valley Education Foundation that will allow the public school board to purchase additional HEPA air filtration units for $750 each.

TVDSB administration uses the province’s centralized purchasing system to ensure the equipment meets requirements and is equitably distributed to local classrooms where additional air filtration would be the most beneficial.

Trustee Rahman is frustrated that the community must step in to fundraise, “Our goal is as many (filtration units) as possible, and to continue to advocate for the province to fund these.”

On Wednesday, Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce touted the distribution of more HEPA filtration units in the lead up to reopening schools.

“We’re further improving ventilation by deploying a further 3,000 HEPA units to learning environments. This builds on significant investments announced by our government over the last year and a half.” he told a media briefing.

But Rahman says the local impact fell short.

“Of the 3,000 that were announced, it was shared that about 89 of those will come to Thames Valley,” she explains.

The public school board’s administration explains that HEPA air filtration units are just one tool, out of many in their COVID protocols.

The portable units have been triaged to classrooms and educational settings where they will offer the most benefit, including Kindergartens and classrooms without full mechanical ventilation.

“There’s no imperial medical effort at this point that it filters COVID from the air,” explains Associate Director of Education Jeff Pratt.

Pratt says parents can be confident sending their child to a classroom whether one is present or not.

“If your child’s classroom doesn’t have an air filter, it doesn’t mean the air quality isn’t good in that classroom,” he says. “It means when we add a HEPA air filter it will enhance air quality.”

Meanwhile, the London District Catholic School Board tells CTV News they are not fundraising for filters.

“Improvements over the past year include upgrading filters to use the highest-grade possible (MERV 13),” adding in a written statement, “Portable HEPA units have been provided for all non-leased portables, Full Day Kindergarten spaces, childcare spaces & non-mechanically ventilated areas in some schools.”