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Calls for improved ventilation in B.C. schools to prevent spread of COVID-19

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While some parents are excitedly counting down the final days of summer vacation, others are worried about their kids starting another school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Vancouver parent Tracey Casavant, it’s a mix of frustration and disappointment. Casavant is immunocompromised and is preparing to send her eight-year-old and 12 year-old back to their classrooms. Her major concern is air ventilation and filtration.

“While there are efforts to make schools safer, it feels haphazard,” Casavant said.

Last week the province updated its COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for K-12. For school and classroom ventilation, it’s recommended that school districts and independent school authorities “regularly maintain HVAC systems” and open windows where possible.

Portable HEPA filter units can be “considered” but they’re not recommended, and guidance from earlier this year said they were “not necessary.”

Jennifer Heighton with the Safe Schools Coalition fears B.C. students, staff and families are being left behind.

“I’m feeling concerned because this year it is looking like there are less protections than ever,” Heighton said. “The government has not done enough to ensure that there are clean air in classrooms, the way some places like Ontario have done.”

Ontario has provided tens of thousands of HEPA filters, leading to comparisons of the different approaches between provinces. B.C.’s Ministry of Health has previously said it's spent more than $163 million on upgrading and improving classroom ventilation since the start of the pandemic.

BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau said there aren't enough details available about the program to ease the minds of parents.

“They have said that there’s been ventilation upgrades it’d be great to be really transparent about which classrooms, which schools have had those,” Furstenau said. “We should have an expectation that all classrooms across the province are meeting the same measures of air quality, ventilation and filtration.”

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