A group of families with children enrolled in the Thames Valley District School Board is aiming to go above and beyond the Ontario government’s standard for the number of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units placed in schools.
Before the start of the 2021-22 school year, school boards in Ontario were required to have standalone HEPA filter units in all occupied kindergarten classrooms and all occupied learning spaces without mechanical ventilation, in an effort to improve school safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an email to Global News, a TVDSB spokesperson says the board has achieved this with the deployment of 1,413 units that were provided by the province.
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These units have been deployed in kindergarten classrooms in all 130 schools across the board, classrooms for students with complex and pervasive medical needs and common areas in schools without mechanical ventilation.
The board is waiting on a delivery of 89 more units, which are to be installed in all self-contained classrooms for those with special education needs. Further shipments of HEPA filter units will be prioritized for classrooms that have students with an approved mask exemption, according to the TVDSB.
Across the province, 70,000 units have deployed in schools with an additional 3,000 units being provided to boards as part of the Ontario government’s latest return to in-person learning.
Ontario remains a national leader in providing HEPA filter units to schools, however, both the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation have called on the province to provide more.
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Hoping to add to the TVDSB’s roster of HEPA filter units is an online fundraiser organized by parents and guardians in the school board’s community.
While the fundraiser’s donation page is hosted by the Thames Valley Education Foundation, the initiative is entirely community-driven.
With each unit priced at $750, with operation costs valued at about $200 for every two years, the fundraiser aims to raise $10,000 in hopes of covering the cost of additional units. More than $4,000 has been raised as of Friday afternoon.
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Corrine Rahman, a TVDSB trustee, as well as one of the parents who helped organize the fundraiser, says the initiative aims to allocate those additional units in an equitable way.
“This provides an opportunity for the funds to go through Thames Valley Education Foundation to the board, and the board to decide, based on student and educator vulnerabilities, where those HEPA filter units should go first,” Rahman said.
“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve heard that we’re in this together and we have to think of everyone…. It supports those values and that joint effort that we’ve been making to get everyone through this.”
Rahman is also working to boost the presence of other preventive measures at Thames Valley schools.
She and board chair Lori-Ann Pizzolato are putting forward a motion to their fellow trustees to have the TVDSB write a letter to the Ontario government that asks for just that.
“Building on the work of what other progressive trustees have done across the province, this is an opportunity to look at some of the gaps that we’re seeing in the system and to try and find some tools so that we can continue to provide in-person learning as long as possible,” Rahman told Global News.
Along with continued funding for ventilation upgrades, the proposed letter would ask for continued tracking and public reporting of COVID-19 cases in schools, increased access to PCR testing, a “test to return” strategy and continued funding to provide non-fitted N95 masks for school staff.
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Other requests in the letter include funding for technology to support ongoing remote learning and transitions to remote learning, increased transparency on provincial decisions made in regard to education and funding for a full-time mental health lead in the TVDSB.
“Trustee Pizzolato and I felt that there were opportunities for more to be done. I know that everyone is doing the best they can with the information and resources that are available,” Rahman said.
The next board meeting for trustees is scheduled for Jan. 25, which is the earliest Rahman and Pizzolato’s motion will have a chance to be considered.
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