Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo Region District School Board fundraises for HEPA filter units for schools

The charitable arm of the Waterloo Region District School Board has set up a fundraiser so community members can help the school board buy HEPA filtration systems for its classrooms.

Parents shouldn't feel they have to pick up the slack: NDP MPP Lindo

A HEPA air filtration systems, is pictured in an Ontario classroom. The Waterloo Region District School Board says it has 1,079 units in schools across the region, with priority given to kindergarden and Alternative Continuum of Education classrooms, where students are most at risk of COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The charitable arm of the Waterloo Region District School board is fundraising for HEPA filter air purifiers, following concerns from parents there aren't enough to go around. 

The school board says it has more than 1,000 HEPA filter units in use across Waterloo region schools. Every one of the board's full-day kindergarden classrooms are equipped, where students are too young to get vaccinated, as are its Alternative Continuum of Education classrooms. 

Other classrooms got HEPA air filtration units, based on need.

"There were a number of questions that were coming from our community, from our parents, from caregivers and families about how they can support our students as they returned to school after the most recent break," said Matthew Gerard, secretary-treasurer of Waterloo Education Foundation Incorporated. 

Parents shouldn't have to fundraise: Lindo

Gerard, who is also a superintendent and treasurer with the school board, said the fundraiser was seen as a way to respond to those questions from the community and also a way to continue the procurement of HEPA filter units for the school board going forward. 

"Folks want to take all the precautions they can to make sure the environment is safe for their students and I think our understanding of COVID-19 continues to evolve ... and as a result we continue to want to react in a different way." 

HEPA filter air purifiers were one of the reasons the Government of Ontario delayed the return to in-person learning by two weeks after the winter break. It told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo it has spent $600 million to improve ventilation and filtration in schools, including paying for thousands of HEPA filtration units. 

But very few of those landed in Waterloo region, said Laura Mae Lindo, NDP MPP for Kitchener Centre. 

"They promised they would have all of these extra HEPA filters coming, but within our most recent shipment, it was only 70," said Lindo. Gerard also confirmed 70 HEPA filtration units were received by the school board since the beginning of 2022.

Lindo praised the school board for listening to parents, and applauded community members for wanting to step in. 

"But should they have to fundraise to ensure the safety of our children? I don't think so," Lindo said.

"It's a fantastic feeling to know that if I send my child to school that there's somebody out there that cares about their safety. But what I hear, at my office, is that parents also want to know that government cares about the safety of their children, too."

In a statement to CBC K-W, a spokesperson for Minster of Education Stephen Lecce said in addition to HEPA filter units, it has also upgrated HVAC systems with "the highest grade MERV-13 fitlers." 

Waterloo Education Foundation Incorporated has a goal of raising $18,000. That will buy approximately 20 units, and pay for one year of operation each — but that's just a starting point, said Gerard. 

"The campaign will remain open until the end of June and we will continue to accept donations as long as people are willing to offer them." 

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