New air filtration systems in APS facilities help keep students, faculty and staff safe
By Allison Joyner
With its first semester of in-person learning almost in the books, it appears the investment in a new air filtration system has helped Atlanta Public Schools (APS).
“Getting the air circulating, especially now that the mask mandate is optional, I think we didn’t have any pushback from staff about the options,” said Trennis Harvey, principal of Heritage Academy.
At the beginning of the year, APS announced plans for reopening schools for face-to-face learning with new preventive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 throughout the district.
“Our strength is that we have been here before. Our longstanding practices and procedures put us in the position of being prepared versus reactive,” said Dr. Lisa Herring, Superintendent for APS.
In addition to new safety measures like the test-to-stay protocol, which allows teachers and students who tested negative after being around someone who tested positive and being in a modified quarantine which allows them to stay in school or work as long as they do not exhibit symptoms, and as long as they continue to test negative throughout the 10 days after their exposure., clean air filtration units were installed in 5,000 classrooms throughout schools and education centers.
The school district invested $3.5 million in the EnviroKlenz Air System Plus The filters have been installed in over 100,000 classrooms nationwide including school systems in Chicago and Washington D. C. and higher ed institutions like NYU and West Georgia Technical College.
“There was zero pushback about the optional mask mandate and I think the purifiers had something to do with that,” Harvey said.
Harvey was part of a team of parents, teachers, administrators and others that evaluated over 30 filters to help APS decide which one to purchase.
The team evaluated the filters on how effective, safe and efficient they were, as well as how disruptive their noise might be to students’ learning experiences.
“The investment in our children and our staff having a truly healthy, clean, safe, educational environment that they come into every day [has been worth it],” said Eshé Collins, Board Chair for APS.
Collins told SaportaReport that the school district has been researching ways to improve the air quality, but the pandemic exacerbated the need.
“A lot of our children suffer health conditions tied to air quality,” Collis said, adding that asthma and bronchitis are of particular concern. The conversation regarding the air quality of schools started before the pandemic, but COVID-19 highlighted the need for action.
Herring said the units will remain in classrooms beyond the pandemic and will be a part of APS’s overall protocols for providing students and teachers with a clean, healthy learning and working environment.
“We’ve received great response from our schools,” Collins said. “Our teachers, our staff and [our] kids have noticed the air filtration in their schools.”
Attendance has improved as well. Harvey said that the attendance rate for last year was around 88 percent but Heritage Academy shows a 92.1 percent attendance rate for this school year, with fewer sick days requested by teachers and staff.
Harvey says that he still has to wipe noses but he attributes optional masks wearing and the new units for making the difference in seeing fewer positive test results.
“I think our school district has been on the forefront of mitigation strategies to make parents feel safe,” Harvey said.