Skip to main content

‘Everyone wants clean air’: Waterloo parent speaks out over public school board’s addressment of air quality in classrooms


Concerns about air quality in Waterloo Region’s schools have prompted a new initiative.

With rising awareness about the impact of pollutants and airborne viruses, parents are becoming increasingly worried about their children’s well-being while at school. As a result, a community organization is donating new air purifying units to local schools to address these concerns.

"All I’m asking for is to understand the environment my child is in," said parent Amanda.

The Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) says the total number of HEPA units in schools has been reduced, prompting Amanda, the local parent – who CTV News has agreed to remain anonymous over fears of repercussions – to keep her child at home.

"It's upsetting because it was a little condition of, you know, please have some HEPA filters for an extra layer of defence and it just didn't happen, unfortunately," she told CTV News.

The concerns have sparked community discussions and activism, eventually making their way to Ontario School Safety, a community-driven organization dedicated to promoting a healthier environment in schools.

"They talk about how to improve indoor air quality and how to use these really simple and effective tools like a box fan attached to furnace filters as a cost effective and efficient way to clean the air in a space," said Ryan Tennant, the workshop organizer and PhD candidate in systems design engineering at the University of Waterloo.

The Ontario School Safety team recently donated Corsi-Rosenthal (CR) Box air purifiers to the school board. Project leaders say they’re designed to create cleaner, safer air and can be two to four times more effective than commercial HEPA units.

"They can provide a really quick rate of clean air to a room and that is the most important [thing] that you want to look for," said Tennant.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, Amanda hopes the school board will utilize the CR Boxes and install them in schools across the region.

"I absolutely hope and it would be amazing if they used the boxes,” she said. “I think everyone wants clean air, I don't think that is something anyone would deny."

CR Boxes seen at a workshop hosted at the University of Waterloo. (Submitted: Ryan Tennant)


In an email statement to CTV News, WRDSB says they received the donation and will continue the conversation with Ontario School Safety while following Ministry of Education’s ventilation guidelines.

“Throughout the summer, Facility Services replaced the filters of HEPA units in Kindergarten classrooms, ACE classrooms, portables and rooms with no or poor mechanical ventilation in anticipation of the upcoming school year. HEPA units that were placed outside of these designated areas have been removed. Resulting in a reduction in the total overall number of HEPA units at each site.”


“On Thursday, August 31, the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) received Ontario School Safety’s representatives. We will continue our conversation with Ontario School Safety, while we follow the Ministry of Education’s ventilation guidelines.

The Waterloo Region District School Board's (WRDSB) top priority is the health and safety of their students and staff. As we have done in the past, we have prepared various strategies within each school to ensure the safety of students and the continuity of their learning. We continue to work closely with the Region of Waterloo Public Health and follow the Ministry of Education’s ventilation guidelines.

The Ministry of Education provides funding to school boards for the purpose of improving ventilation in schools. The WRDSB, in alignment with the direction of the Ministry, has prioritized the use of this funding to allow for:

  • Installation of the highest-grade filters possible, namely MERV 13 filters, in all HVAC systems
  • Replacement of HVAC filters on a more frequent basis, increasing from 3 times per year to 5 times per year
  • Operation of HVAC systems at least 2 hours or more before and after school occupancy
  • Maximization of airflow and fresh air intake in all HVAC systems
  • Completion of various ventilation projects to improve ventilation in schools
  • Placement of HEPA units in Kindergarten classrooms, ACE classrooms, portables and rooms with no or poor mechanical ventilation (including classrooms, gyms, libraries, lunchrooms, child care spaces and administrative spaces)

In addition to the ventilation improvements listed above, measures to prevent and control the spread of illness, such as cleaning high-touch surfaces daily and encouraging screening, masking, proper respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, remain in place in all occupied learning spaces to protect staff, students and members of the school community.”


During the August workshop where the CR Boxes were constructed, University of Waterloo engineering professor and Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) Indoor Air Quality committee member, Dr. Amy Li, presented a lecture on air purifier safety and efficacy.

In an email statement to CTV News, Li says the use of the CR Boxes can reduce transmission of infectious diseases and improve indoor quality.

“I think Ontario School Safety has done an excellent job donating DIY air cleaners (also known as CR boxes), made with box fans and high-efficiency HVAC filters, to local schools. Decades of research have consistently shown that portable air filters, whether commercial ones with HEPA filters, or DIY box fans can effectively reduce the transmission of airborne infectious diseases. They can also help remove particles, such as wildfire smoke and allergens from the air and improve indoor air quality for the students and teachers.”

“The use of portable air filters is an important part of a multi-layered approach to reduce transmission of infectious diseases and improve indoor air quality, especially in buildings without centralized forced-air HVAC systems. And even in buildings with adequate systems, they can further enhance the filtration performance. I believe that they should be used more widely in buildings.” Top Stories

Stay Connected