Keeping our air clean
By Dr. Vincent Matthews
San Francisco public schools occupy some of the most beautiful buildings in the City. If you’ve been to one, you may have seen baroque domes, tiled entryways and courtyards. Part of running our school system involves regular modernization and maintenance on these beautiful community assets, which includes more than 130 buildings.
While this is a big job already, since COVID-19, there are a lot of additional things our Facilities Department staff have had to make happen to get schools ready for our students to return in the spring and pass public health inspections around physical distancing, ventilation and more.
Our staff moved out and temporarily stored the furniture from more than 1,000 classrooms somewhere else only to move it all back this summer when public health requirements changed.
In addition, we inspected thousands of windows across the City to check to make sure they could open and, when they couldn’t, purchased and installed portable air purifiers and updated all filters in our HVAC systems.
Nearly all of our 3,063 elementary, middle, and high school classrooms have operable windows, and schools are encouraged to keep windows open when the air quality allows. But what do we do when there are wildfires?
The SF Department of Public Health says that when air quality is poor, schools should prioritize maintaining healthy air quality indoors and can safely stay open even if they need to close windows or decrease outdoor air intake. There are multiple other steps students and staff are taking to help prevent against COVID-19 like wearing masks and getting vaccinated when they are over 12 years old.
We are taking even more steps to improve ventilation in schools, both in response to the ongoing pandemic and because of the increase in wildfires. For those times when schools must close windows due to air quality, we’re taking steps to equip each classroom with portable air cleaners with HEPA air filtration that can cover our large classrooms and which we believe should be able to run while other electronics like computers and projectors are also running in our sometimes old and beautiful buildings.
Some community members have been asking how they can help keep our students learning in person and even offered to donate a portable air cleaner. While we are not accepting donated equipment, we are accepting donations for the many additional expenses related to our COVID response. By doing central purchasing and deployment, we can responsibly set up replacement and maintenance schedules to keep an eye on the filters and make sure they’re in working condition.
Donations in support of purchasing the filters we’ll need to maintain over 3,000 of the portable air cleaners, may be made to Spark* SF Public Schools, the non-profit that raises funds for SFUSD’s priority improvement initiatives. If you’ve already made a donation to support our public schools’ COVID response, thank you!