Federal funds will enable school systems to prioritize air quality initiatives, including repairs, upgrades, and entirely new systems

How schools can become air quality champions this year

Federal funds will enable school systems to prioritize air quality initiatives, including repairs, upgrades, and entirely new systems

In addition, the Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program allows schools to earn federal accolades for their sustainability work that exhibits indoor air quality, resource efficiency and conservation, and environmental learning. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit North America in early 2020, most of us didn’t know much about it. In fact, scientists had differing opinions on how it spread — remember how all of us spent months wiping down grocery bags with sanitizer, lest a stray molecule find its way onto our hands and then into our lungs? Over time, it would become apparent that this was an airborne disease, and the best method to stay safe was to avoid close physical proximity with other people to prevent sharing contaminated air. As a result, the public response to the pandemic shifted to congregating in outdoor spaces and avoiding small, poorly ventilated areas.

But as vaccines and boosters became available, people slowly began making their way back into indoor spaces, albeit with strong social distancing restrictions to prevent overcrowding. By the end of 2021, most school districts in North America were at least partially providing in-person instruction. And despite a number of variants that have caused mild and moderate disruptions over the last year, it appears that we are well on our way to a return to how life was before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19. That doesn’t mean that we should let our guard down. 

It is impossible to overstate how important it is for schools to maintain the highest possible air quality. According to the EPA, “studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — higher than outdoor levels.” That puts classrooms squarely in the crosshairs of potential flareups and illness clusters over the next few months. And while there isn’t a single magic button that will prevent anyone from getting sick, by implementing best practices, school boards stand a better chance of keeping classrooms open and kids healthy. And after so many years of disruption, that should be one goal that all of us can agree on. 

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