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Sooke School District addresses teachers’ substandard ventilation claim

Given choice, SD62 opted to improve air change in schools rather than install finer filters
The Sooke School District 62 said provincial guidelines don’t require them to upgrade the ventilation systems to MERV 13, despite claims made by the Sooke Teacher’s Association last week. (Justin Samanski-Langille/News Staff)

Sooke School District (SD62) says it is not required by the province to upgrade its ventilation systems and that all schools in the district are up to standard.

The province’s COVID-19 Communicable Disease Guidelines for K-12 Settings ask that filters be upgraded to a “minimum MERV 13 filter or higher if possible.” Filters with a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating between 13 and 16 are typically used in patient or surgery areas of hospitals.

SD62 spokesperson Kristen McGillivray said, however, the district was given the option to upgrade to MERV 13 or increase air change in schools and chose the latter. The changes have been made in all SD62 schools and reduced the parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide from 900 to 700 on average across the district, she added. Provincial guidelines require an air quality assessment to be conducted if ppm counts of CO2 – the gas exhaled by humans which could spread COVID-19 – rise above 1,000.

The Ministry of Education clarified its COVID-19 guidelines that filters should be upgraded to MERV-13 “where possible,” noting in an email to Black Press Media that “some ventilation systems cannot accommodate MERV-13 filters.”

The Sooke Teachers Association had flagged the ventilation issue last week and said N95 masks should be available for school staff, after SD62 declared a vaccine mandate for all staff will take effect March 7.

READ MORE: Vaccinations important, Sooke Teachers Association says, but so are proper ventilation, N95 masks

The district would need to do a funding assessment to determine the cost of upgrading to MERV 13 filters, McGillivray said. The timeline for such changes would depend on the systems used in each individual school, she added.

“The school district continues to service its systems to ensure they work the way they were designed,” McGillivray said. “When scheduled filter changes are generated, we will always look at the best possible solution that fits that particular system.”

The district is in communications with the Sooke Teachers Association on the topic, she added.

As for masks, McGillivray said the district is also in line with provincial guidelines – which call for students and staff to wear non-medical masks while indoors (N95 masks are considered respirators by BCCDC) – and provides triple-layer disposable masks for staff and students.

Teachers association president Jennifer Anderson also called last week for the district to expedite plans to make rapid tests available in schools. Rapid tests are part of the vaccine mandate plan – any staff who cannot provide proof of vaccination by March 7 need to be tested regularly if they wish to continue working for SD62.

READ MORE: Sooke School District declares vaccine mandate for all staff


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