EMSB forging ahead with air purifiers, wants province to reimburse

Elementary students in Quebec returned to class Monday after being away for more than three weeks and while children may have been happy to see their friends, their teachers started the day with a mix of emotions. 

Some believe it’s unsafe for children to return to class, but after spending part of the break teaching online, others were happy to be back at the chalkboard. 

“My teachers who are teaching the younger grades found it was tough for the kids to be online," said Pierre Elliott Trudeau school principal Tanya Alvarez. 

But a recent survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies suggests the majority of Quebecers feel their children would not be safe returning to the classroom while Covid-19 cases continue to skyrocket in the province. 

The survey found 58 per cent of the 402 Quebecers polled said they think it will be unsafe to send students back to school.

One of the recurring concerns about in-class learning is the air quality in many classrooms. Last week the province announced it doesn’t think air purifiers work as a way to limit the spread of Covid-19 in schools and wouldn’t be recommending those types of filtration devices be installed.

It left many scientists and some Montreal area school boards questioning the decision, because there are numerous studies that suggest air purifiers do in fact reduce transmission of Covid-19. At least 300 scientists signed an open letter recently, calling on the provincial health minister to take aerosol transmission in classrooms more seriously. 

The EMSB had already spent nearly $2M to buy and install more than 800 air purifiers in its schools. Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School in Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie now has 26 air purifiers. Before the holidays it only had mechanical ventilation in its gymnasium. 

“We're still using all the masks, our visors, goggles social distancing,” said Alvarez. "We're following all the guidelines, but having it as an extra device it's good to have."

The EMSB expects to have all of its air purifiers in place in its schools by the end of the month. 

The question remains, who will foot the bill? The board is demanding reimbursement from the Quebec government for the air purifiers it purchased. 

"This is a safety and security measure and we've taken all of the measures necessary to provide masks, to provide hand sanitizer, to take all the precautions in terms of cleanliness, safety and security," said Joe Ortona, the chair of the EMSB. "We don't feel that the school board should be paying for that."

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