Trustees say Mississauga schools need more funding for proper ventilation
Trustees at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), the board that oversees Catholic schools in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon, recently penned a letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce outlining concerns about proper ventilation in schools.
The letter, written by DPCDSB trustee Sharon Hobin, says the board of trustees unanimously voted to share concerns regarding the need for more funding to improve school ventilation systems, adding that the DPCDSB's HVAC needs alone require approximately $60 million.
"Maintaining optimal air quality in school buildings is one of several risk reduction strategies for safely reopening schools. The transmission of the COVID-19 virus is known to be influenced by environmental conditions and airflow, spreading well in poorly ventilated indoor spaces," Hobin writes.
"As we are sure the Ministry of Education is already aware, many schools in the province of Ontario have suboptimal ventilation. Air quality and airflow are important contributing factors to ensuring the health and safety of our students and staff."
In the letter, Hobin says the board is following public health guidance regarding HVAC systems and ventilation in schools but is concerned about high rates of infection in the Region of Peel and needs more funding to improve ventilation, air quality and HVAC systems in DPCDSB schools.
Hobin says that the $50 million the province pledged to help schools improve air quality includes approximately $1.7 million for the DPCDSB—additional money on top of the $26 million in school renewal and condition improvement funding that the board received for the 2019-2020 school year. The letter says that although the funding helped address a variety of urgent repairs and maintenance at DPCDSB's 151 schools, the board is dealing with a "significant cumulative backlog of school renewal needs of approximately $250 million."
"The DPCDSB's HVAC needs alone require approximately $60 million. While we welcome the allotted $1.7 million provided by the Ministry of Education, the confirmation of this funding was only received on August 25, 2020, leaving our staff very little time to assess and undertake work in our schools prior to the start of the school year," Hobin writes.
"Furthermore, this funding amounts to only $11,000 per school, which proves insufficient for the needs of a large GTA board with approximately 11,000 employees and serving almost 81,000 students. At this time, DPCDSB has not received this specific funding."
Hobin also wrote that the DPCDSB most recently approved the use of up to 2 per cent of its operating revenue for the proposed 2020-2021 school year budget.
In the letter, Hobin says the board is doing what it can to ensure that fresh air is circulating in the schools, but has concerns about classrooms without any windows.
"While classrooms should have windows that remain open during the school day, we are cognizant that some classrooms, especially those located in school basements, do not have any windows. In other classrooms, the windows cannot be opened. We are currently performing a school by school assessment on how many classrooms are impacted and have limitations to improving fresh airflow," Hobin writes.
Hobin said the board cannot spend too much of its budget on ventilation and airflow issues, adding that it's "financially imperative for our board to operate schools within the budget parameters of our two-year deficit management plan."
"Minister Lecce, addressing the DPCDSB's HVAC renewal needs, improving ventilation within our building systems and designs to optimize air quality and flow, does require funding and time to do so. In this regard, while the $1.7M in funding from the Ministry from the $50 million across the province is welcome and necessary, it does not support our immediate reopening measures to the fullest extent possible," Hobin writes.
In the letter, Hobin also said that parents and guardians elementary school children are concerned about larger class sizes, especially since Peel remains a COVID hotspot in Ontario.
"We are relying on the Ministry of Education to adequately meet the school renewal needs of the DPCDSB. It is imperative that our schools can successfully continue with the opening process, but also be well-positioned to safely remain open through the duration of the pandemic. We formally request that you prioritize a safe return to school with appropriate funding that invests in illness prevention to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," the letter reads.
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