London

London elementary schools still without ventilation upgrades, says union head

Though hundreds of millions of dollars have been set aside to make schools safer for students across Ontario, no elementary schools in the Thames Valley District School Board have received ventilation upgrades, says the local chapter of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.

TVDSB says it will spend $15 million on HVAC and ventilation upgrades this summer

The school board is raising concerns over ventilation in London elementary schools as Premier Doug Ford reviews responses to a questionnaire it sent out last week about reopening schools. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

No elementary schools in the Thames Valley District School Board have received ventilation upgrades, despite hundreds of millions of dollars being set aside to make schools safer for students, says the local chapter of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

"Only about 40 per cent — as I understand it — of schools actually have air conditioning and those more modern ventilation systems," said Craig Smith, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario Thames Valley.

That leaves 60 per cent of local elementary schools in need of ventilation upgrades, he told London Morning guest host Jackie Sharkey Monday. 

And that work has yet to start, he said.

Craig Smith, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario for Thames Valley, joins London Morning to discuss the potential for in-class learning before the end of the school year. He says the problem is ventilation systems that have not been updated to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. 9:03

"And that is, I think, really the problem. We know that through the federal government, the province did distribute to the school boards monies for this purpose," said Smith.

The pandemic upgrades were first promised in August 2020, when Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced $500 million had been "unlocked," allowing school boards to access reserve funds to pay for upgrades that included better ventilation systems. 

Then, in April, the federal and provincial government made a joint announcement for more than $650 million. It is also intended to cover pandemic-related infrastructure upgrades, including ventilation. 

"We have schools where — ventilation is one thing, but you can't even open the windows. What we've been advocating for is ... HEPA filtration systems, with HEPA filters on them, to make sure the air that people are breathing is clean," said Smith.

HVAC upgrades coming this summer, says board

The teachers federation is raising these concerns as Premier Doug Ford reviews responses to a questionnaire it sent out last week about reopening schools. It polled 55 different individuals and groups, including the ETFO, about the pros and cons of sending kids back to class. 

"The challenge we face right now is the schools that we are potentially poised to return to are the same schools that we left when the lockdown began," said Smith. 

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The Thames Valley District School Boards says all ventilation and HVAC systems in its schools were up to code at the time they were constructed, and go through regular maintenance and filter changes. 

"Through Ministry of Education school renewal investments, we have prioritized HVAC improvements at our facilities to an amount of approximately $64.5 million over the last five years," the board said in a statement from their Facilities Services Department.

"This school year, we are on track to invest an additional $15 million to upgrade our HVAC Systems. Many projects are already underway."

According to the TVDSB website, the board says they are in constant communication with local public health units with respect to ventilation, ensuring they are keeping current on the latest research and data.

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