A new report from the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and ASHRAE details how school districts in the United States have continued to manage air quality within their schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Managing Air Quality in the Pandemic: How K-12 Schools Addressed Air Quality in the Second Year of COVID-19” builds on an April 2021 report, “Preparation in the Pandemic: How Schools Implemented Air Quality Measures to Protect Occupants from COVID-19,” which was the first and only known national survey of on-the-ground implementation of indoor air quality (IAQ) improvements at schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new report highlights the urgent need to better support school districts with implementation of airborne infection control strategies to support mitigation of the immediate COVID-19 threat, as well as future pandemics, seasonal epidemics and to improve overall indoor air quality.
“Studies have shown a direct link between indoor air quality in schools and student performance and attendance,” explains 2021-22 ASHRAE President, Mick Schwedler, P.E., Fellow ASHRAE, LEED AP. “This study further underscores the importance of not only providing technical guidance for improving indoor air quality, but the need for practical implementation strategies. We trust that the findings in this report will lead to more knowledge sharing, expanded partnerships and greater investments to improve indoor air quality and decarbonize our schools.”
The report cites strategies and challenges from school districts serving over 2.6 million students in more than 4,000 schools. Findings shows that schools prioritized increasing outdoor air intake by whatever means were available to them and reflects on how the pandemic and schools’ responses to it have evolved. Importantly for national advocates, the survey responses indicate that school districts in different locales (urban versus non-urban) are seeking guidance from different types of sources.
“Maintaining good indoor air quality is vital to support the health and wellness of students and faculty,” says Anisa Heming, director for the Center for Green Schools. “School districts recognize that proper ventilation is critical to curbing the spread of airborne diseases like COVID-19. However, more than two years into the pandemic, they still need support to find the right strategies and resources to make the necessary changes.”
The report makes a number of additional findings:
- Buildings’ HVAC systems were not designed to implement the recommendations, creating challenges not found to be associated with any particular school district characteristics studied, such as demographics, locale or size.
- School district characteristics such as demographics, locale and size were not associated with the number of IAQ measures taken, but were associated with the implementation of specific measures, such as increasing outdoor air through HVAC systems and assessing outdoor air delivery.
- American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding has been used to support the implementation of IAQ measures more than funding from operating or capital budgets.
- Just over half of school districts reported feeling that access was available to funding to support additional IAQ-related building improvements.
- Non-urban districts were more likely to lean on state and local guidance, while urban districts were more likely to use federal-level guidance and guidance from leading building industry organizations and associations such as ASHRAE.
- Over a quarter of districts responded no new plans to implement additional ventilation, filtration or other building changes in schools.
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab conducted research for the report compiled from a national survey of public school districts between October and December 2021 to assess the implementation of a range of ventilation, filtration, disinfection and air quality monitoring strategies and was followed by focus group discussions with participants.managing_air_quality_during_the_pandemic