Back to school readiness: SRCE showcases Antigonish Education Centre

By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
September 9 2020

ANTIGONISH – As the return to school drew near, the Strait Regional Centre for Education (SRCE) invited media to tour the Antigonish Education Centre (AEC) on Wednesday, September 2 to highlight for the public the steps they have taken to create a safe environment for students and staff during the pandemic.

The tour of the facility was led by Paul Landry, the SRCE’s Regional Executive Director of Education, and April Weaver, principal of AEC. Landry described the tour as an opportunity to see the work that, “has been done over the summer getting ready for school reopening…we wanted to give you a bit of a peek,” adding that they were still putting the final touches on preparations.

 

Limiting contact

 

The tour started with an explanation of how busing would be adapted to reduce contact between students. “Now it will be more controlled. Buses will come into the loop. One bus will unload at a time, students will come in and they’ll go in through their entry point and then the next bus will release students. There may be a couple of buses in the loop that will be holding their students to manage the flow of traffic coming into the school,” said Landry.

As students enter the school, they will see directional signs to guide the flow of traffic through hallways, other signs to remind them to physically distance, and still more encouraging the practice of good hygiene and the use of face masks.

In the classroom, desks are no longer clustered in groups or pairs but separated as much as possible given the size of the room. Weaver said, “We have taken a lot of materials out of the classroom that we didn’t deem essential to accommodate that spacing.” That being the case, the space between desks in most classes fails to meet the two-metre distance required in public indoor spaces; the requirement does not apply to schools and universities.

 

Washrooms

 

Washroom rules have also changed; now only as many students as there are facilities are allowed in the washroom, said Weaver, adding that intensive hand washing, and cleaning of washrooms would be part of the new protocol.

While that may reduce the amount of contact between students in a confined space, the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning Associations states in their Guidance for Schools document, “Give the instructions to flush toilets with closed lid.” A similar guideline was also listed in the COVID-19 precautions issued by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); which is frequently referenced in Canadian guidelines and practices for heating and ventilation.

Most, if not all, student toilets in SRCE schools don’t have lids. When asked if lids would be provided in the coming weeks, Mike Landry, director of operations for the SRCE said they would not.

As the tour continued throughout the school Weaver said, “Hand washing and cough etiquette are the first lesson that students will be receiving on the first day back at school. There’ll be lots of conversation around proper hand washing and coughing and sneezing into your elbow as well as how to put on a mask and take off a mask.”

 

Ventilation concerns

 

One point that has been raised as a potential risk factor in schools is ventilation. Paul Wozney, president of the 10,000-member Nova Scotia Teachers Union, issued a statement on Wednesday, September 2 reporting that, “ventilation systems have yet to be inspected or fixed, windows still don’t open.”

Premier McNeil rejected that statement at a press conference held on Thursday, September 3 and said that ventilation systems in provincial schools meet national air quality standards. According to the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (SOR/86-304), “Every HVAC system installed on or after the day of the coming into force of this section shall meet the design requirements of ASHRAE Standard 62-1989, entitled Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality, as amended from time to time.”

ASHRAE has issued new documents regarding ventilation standards in the age of COVID-19. The society’s lengthy back to school checklist includes the following statement regarding ventilation, “Select filtration levels (MERV ratings) that are maximized for equipment capabilities, use Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 if equipment allows, while assuring the pressure drop is less than the fans capability.”

MERV values reflect the filter’s ability to catch airborne particles. A MERV rating of 13 or above is capable of catching attached virus-sized particles, according to ASHRAE. When The Journal asked the SRCE to provide the MERV value for ventilation systems for schools within the newspaper’s coverage area, the following response was provided by Deanna Gillis, coordinator of communications for the SRCE: “Ventilation systems are complex. The SRCE Operations staff manage the maintenance of our buildings to ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and safely and routine maintenance like filter changes are performed as required…SRCE Operations staff has conducted a school-by-school check of the ventilation air handler systems and are ensuring all rooms have operable windows to increase air flow. We will continue to ensure any ventilation issues that may arise are immediately addressed and repaired.”

As students and staff return to school this week, there is some anxiety, and that, said the Minister of Education Zach Churchill in a press conference last Wednesday, was understandable. He had experienced similar concerns when the province reopened licensed childcare facilities, which have now been operating for two months without incident.

At the same press conference on September 2, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said, “I fully expect we will get cases of COVID-19 in a school…We have plans in place to manage it appropriately.”

For more information on the ASHRAE back to school COVID-19 checklist, visit

https://www.ashrae.org/technical-resources/reopening-of-schools-and-universities.