WRDSB approves CO2 monitoring program as parents voice concerns over air purifier use
As Waterloo region’s public school board puts a carbon dioxide (CO2) monitoring pilot program into place, some parents said the move comes too little too late.
During a Monday meeting, trustees with the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) approved a pilot project that will see the monitoring of carbon dioxide levels in three classrooms for three months starting in September.
A parent told trustees her attempt to get specifics about an air quality assessment of her son's classroom was met with resistance from the school board.
"I received a phone call that it was completed and that the results were adequate, and I had asked to view the report because I have the expertise to interpret it, and I was told the only for me to view it is through a Freedom of Information request,” Amanda Abdo said at the meeting.
Trustee Cindy Watson also made the case to fellow trustees to monitor CO2 levels so parents can see them.
"If the parent's child has a medical condition, it's important for them upon request to have information as to what the CO2 levels are," said Watson. "If we're going to monitor it and not provide information, then there really is no transparency and accountability."
According to the WRDSB, it spent $40.5 million for ventilation in the last two school years, with another $12.2 earmarked for the current school year.
This investment has seen 3,504 standalone HEPA filter units deployed in WRDSB schools.
MORE FAMILIES WITH CONCERNS ABOUT FILTERS
The move comes after families with children in WRDSB continue to raise concerns over the management of air purifiers rolled out as part of the safe-return-to-school pandemic plan.
“Within two weeks, my kindergartener was home with COVID, half the class was off with COVID, the teacher was off with COVID,” said parent Marty Levesque. "It basically shut everything down.”
Levesque takes issue with how the HEPA air filter units are being used, or not used, in class.
“Whether it's getting used or not, I don't know because every time we would go in to do pick-up at the end of the day, it's always running at the lowest possible speed, or it's off,” he said.
Levesque said despite assurances from the board, there was no air purifier in his daughter's class to start the school year.
He further claims their use is spotty. A photo provided by Levesque to CTV News shows a machine sitting in a classroom blocked by desks.
For Kate Laing, the rollout of air purifiers, described by the province in February 2022 as a “massive investment” was a crucial part of sending her son back to school.
The COVID-cautious family said their oldest son was the first to develop COVID in September, and then her toddler was next.
“He still has a cough that's never gone away,” Laing said.
Laing said her youngest son also developed COVID and has since been recently hospitalized after he came down with a fever of 109 F and a diagnosis of pneumonia.
“It's hard not to feel like we've let him down in some way because I don't know what effects this is going to be for him long-term,” Laing said.
Levesque and Laing said getting answers to their questions about the use of the purifiers has not been easy.
The board says it's invested more than $40 million dollars in ventilation projects, and a further $12 million dollars is budgeted for the current school year.
According to a ventilation report published by the board, a total of 3,504 HEPA filter units have been deployed.
When it comes to keeping the machines on or providing maintenance information like filter changes the board won't go into detail.
Meanwhile, Levesque said it's very frustrating because parents just want to keep their kids safe.
“Transparency. First and foremost, just transparency. You said you made the air better. You said you improved the ventilation system. Show your work,” he said.