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Fall News: How DPS is Managing Classroom Air Quality

Air Quality and Facility Safety a Priority for Reopening Dedham Public Schools 


After rolling out the phased school reopening plan last week, Dedham Public School officials continue to work with educators and families to finalize key details that will help ensure a safe and productive return to school this fall.  With seven school buildings, several of which are aging, the quality of air circulation and classroom environment safety has been a significant focal point for school administration and a frequently asked question from both educators and student families.    


In the spring, the purchase of seven hospital-grade electro-static disinfectant systems allowed school facilities and maintenance teams to take a more aggressive approach to cleaning and disinfecting school surfaces.   Over the summer, DPS expanded this investment in classroom health safety to include the purchase of over 200 medical-grade air purifier units, enough to include in all classroom spaces across the District.  The air-purifier systems have activated carbon filters and multi level filtration, designed to filter to 0.1 micron which would catch the COVID-19 spore which is 0.13 microns.    The units are designed to exchange an entire 1500 square foot classroom of air 4 times per hour; most of DPS classrooms are 900 square feet or less.   School officials have also purchased 100+ smaller units to incorporate into staff offices and smaller student spaces as needed.   


“Ensuring that our students and staff remain safe in the midst of this pandemic has always been our top priority.  Our plans for the Fall took into account the concerns of parents and staff not only around how the District can provide the best possible learning experiences for our students, but how we can do that as safely as possible in our classrooms,”  said Mike Welch, Dedham Superintendent of Schools.   “I’ve been personally walking through each school building with our facilities team over the summer to review areas of need and concern, not only for the risks of Coronavirus, but for student and staff safety overall.”


Since June, the Dedham Public Schools Facilities Department have been conducting comprehensive reviews of every teaching and office space in every school building, looking at ways to increase ventilation to the maximum extent possible within the structure and possibilities of the mechanical systems in place.  Working closely with HVAC consultants, all ventilation equipment has been carefully inspected, cleaned and adjusted to increase air exchange within the available capabilities and limitations of the current systems. Additionally, all ventilation filters have been changed and upgraded to improve overall building air quality.   The financial support for the purchase of these additional 300+ free-standing air purification systems comes from additional funds allocated to the district to deal with COVID specific expenses. 


School officials also noted that the investment in air purifiers for classrooms offers potential long-term benefits.  Citing a recent, March 2020, study out of New York University, air quality and the removal of everyday pollutants was shown to significantly improve student learning and school performance.  “Putting these air units into our classrooms is a great addition to our schools, even without the threat of Covid-19. As a District, we are grateful to be in a community and working with a team of people that are always looking for new ways to improve our schools and classrooms for the benefit of our students,”  concluded Welch.


The District plans to reopen all seven school buildings this fall, first to educators, then gradually adding small groups of students into a hybrid learning approach which will for either two or four days of in-classroom learning for students, depending on their needs.  Final details on process and plans are being expanded and developed with building-based reopening teams, allowing parents, administration and educators the ability to design safety protocols around the individual needs of each school building.   This phased approach exemplifies the District focus on taking a deliberate, cautious and flexible approach to returning students safely to classrooms.


All 200+ Classroom units are expected to be in place prior to the planned reopening of schools to staff on August 31.  Upon returning,all students (PreK - 12)  and staff will all still be required to wear masks, the addition of these air purifying units does not impact this policy.  Masks may be reusable or disposable, but must have two breathable layers and secured with ties or elastic - neck gaiters or bandanas will not be allowed.   DPS custodians will clean and disinfect all “high touch” surfaces in all school common areas on a regular daily schedule that at a minimum includes two comprehensive cleaning sessions during the school day.  Additionally, Every Wednesday and Saturday, DPS custodians will conduct a “deep cleaning” of every building.