Pressed about air quality in schools, province vows to install CO2 detectors starting this fall

The province has yet to issue a call for tenders to have its 48,000 classrooms equipped with carbon dioxide detectors for the upcoming school year, but the Education Ministry says it will start receiving them this fall.

Quebec is the "only province to equip its classes with CO2 sensors," says Education Ministry spokesperson

Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge has been heavily criticized by opposition parties at the National Assembly over how he's handled the issue of air quality in schools. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Many of Quebec's 48,000 classrooms will not be equipped with carbon dioxide detectors at the start of the upcoming school year, but the Education Ministry says installation will begin "during the fall of 2021."

Carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors track the quality of the air students are breathing and should help the province limit the spread of COVID-19 within classrooms.

This year, opposition parties at the National Assembly have heavily scrutinized the Legault government, accusing Education Minister Jean-François Roberge of not taking the issue of air quality in schools seriously enough.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the province's Education Ministry said the equipment will be installed "quickly", but did not specify when each classroom in Quebec would have one.

The government had promised to issue a call for tenders for the CO2 sensors by June 10, according to Radio-Canada. That still hasn't been done.

"The ministry put together a committee of air quality experts... This committee worked to come up with a solution and put together a call for tenders. This [call for tenders] will be launched in the coming days," said Bryan St-Louis, a spokesperson with the ministry.

"The model retained by this committee is easy to install."

Last month, Roberge stated that as long as 75 per cent of Quebecers between the ages of 12 and 17 had received a first vaccine dose against COVID-19, students could go back to school without having to either wear masks or physically distance. 

With the start of the next school year about a month and a half away, 76 per cent of people in that age group have gotten their first shot. 

Letter sent to private schools

Part of the province's plan was described in a letter that surfaced online, which appears to have been written by the Education Ministry to the director generals of Quebec private schools.

The letter appeared on the Twitter page of COVID Ecoles Quebec. It states that each institution will be responsible for installing the equipment. 

According to the letter, schools will have until June 30, 2022 to set up the detectors.

The spokesperson with the Education Ministry did not confirm or deny the letter's authenticity, but told CBC News the June date was "wrong".

"The work will be completed well before that," St-Louis said. "Quebec is the only province to equip its classes with CO2 sensors."

With files from Radio-Canada's Thomas Gerbet