Schools bringing students back this fall will require or at least strongly suggest masks, but officials say they can only be so effective during six-hour school days indoors. Air circulation is needed.
Stephen Murley, the school superintendent in Green Bay, Wisconsin, said most of his district’s 42 campuses have older air systems. When there is high humidity, they are set to recirculate drier indoor air to prevent unhealthy black mold from growing on the walls — but battling the coronavirus requires fresh air.
“We have two things working at odds with each other,” Murley said.
Janet Robinson, the superintendent in Stratford, Connecticut, said some of her district’s 13 schools were built between 80 and 100 years ago and aren’t capable of handling modern air systems — “they are a challenge.” There are also crowding issues — one has classrooms built for 15 students but that typically have 25, making social distancing impossible.
“It is kind of naive for politicians and whoever to say, ‘Just bring (the students) in and keep them at 6 feet (2 meter) distance,‘” she said.
Brian Toth, superintendent of the Saint Marys Area School District in northern Pennsylvania, said his district’s five schools’ air systems have no exit vents to circulate fresh air in and the virus out. He estimates it would cost at least $600,000 per school to replace the systems. When his schools reopen Aug. 31, students will be asked to wear masks, but Pennsylvania law exempts children whose parents claim they have a physical or mental condition.