Last week, Revere Teachers Association’s (RTA) Gina Garro circulated an email letter outlining recent airflow testing results at Revere Public School (RPS) buildings and the lack of urgency by school administrators to address ongoing concerns the RTA has over adequate ventilation amid an ongoing global pandemic.
The email received immediate backlash from Revere Public School Superintendent Dr. Dianne Kelly who argued RPS is keeping up with their end of the bargain under the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was ratified by the RTA and voted on by the School Committee on August 28 that addresses these very concerns.
According to Garro, the report shows three buildings containing five schools and administrative offices failed airflow testing.
“Though some progress has recently been made at the Beachmont and Garfield schools, the RTA still has no information about remediation efforts to address the ventilation deficiencies at Revere High School,” said Garro in a letter. “We would like the administration to provide evidence that efforts are being made and those efforts are working.”
Garro said it was important to note that a very limited number of classrooms were tested at RHS.
“For example, interior classrooms without windows were largely left out of testing, most second and third floor classrooms were not tested, shared spaces like the library, cafeteria, and teachers rooms were not tested, and, most importantly, the nurse’s office was not tested,” said Garro. “Despite the report recommending follow-up testing, none has been done. As of now, the solution at RHS still seems to be to open the windows.Obviously, the RTA thinks remediation and retesting needs to happen before students return to school. It is also essential to use the test results to determine the maximum room occupancy of classrooms, etc. before students return. The more prepared we can be for re-opening, the better for everyone’s safety. The District should also commit to purchasing HEPA filter portable air cleaners for all rooms identified with low airflow. This is especially important in rooms that do not have windows or in winter months when windows cannot stay open.”
Garro and the RTA argue that if nothing is done, it is possible that within a few months over a thousand Revere High School students could be returning to a school with documented airflow problems during a pandemic.
“We need to be addressing building safety concerns now, while the students are still remote. The RTA is simply asking for repairs to be made in a timely and transparent fashion,” continues the letter. “Everyone deserves proper ventilation. We want to make sure everyone is safe, especially our students.”
However,Superintendent Kelly took issue with the latest assessment of school safety and said it is unfortunate that the RTA continues to spread disinformation in an effort to instill fear in the community about the safety of RPS buildings.
“The preliminary report was produced as a means to identify which HVAC systems in our schools may need to be supplemented to ensure adequate outside airflow so we can safely return students, at least in a future hybrid model, to our classrooms,” said Kelly. “We have used the results of this testing and guidance from experts to drive our facilities work since then. As we have said all along, the primary goal of the school department is returning students to classrooms as soon as it is safe to do so. It is becoming increasingly clear that the RTA does not share this goal.”
Kelly said that RPS and RTA agreed in its recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was ratified by the teachers and voted by the School Committee on August 28 that, “The District shall provide ongoing and reasonable assurance of adequate ventilation in the Beachmont, Garfield and High Schools prior to a transition to a hybrid model.”
“We have been transparent with the RTA not only by sharing this preliminary report but also by sharing our ongoing work to improve the outside air flow at the Beachmont, Garfield, and High School,” said Kelly. “Primary actions have included ensuring operable windows in all classrooms, cleaning any blocked coils in Univents, and setting vents at their maximum opening point. This has been the advice of myriad experts in the medical fields and in building safety fields. We have been clear that these HVAC systems work exactly as they were designed, but they were designed to favor maintaining heating levels rather than optimizing outside air intake. We have committed ourselves to exploring additional solutions so that we might not be forced to keep windows open during winter months as this would significantly increase utility costs – something we hope to avoid.”
Kelly said an update on the three buildings and the work completed in each building was shared with the RTA on Sept. 9.
“On Sept. 10 and 11 our Facilities Director met virtually with staff from all three buildings to answer their questions and explain all of the work that has occurred in the last six weeks,” said Kelly. “Interim testing reports, showing our actions have generated improvements at Beachmont and Garfield, were shared with the RTA on Sept. 18. Further testing, including at RHS, is being scheduled in the immediate future.”
In the final analysis Kelly argued it would be nonsensical and a waste of taxpayer dollars to retest air flow before adjustments have been made.
“We all wish our COVID numbers were lower in Revere, so we might be on the verge of moving to a hybrid learning model,” said Kelly. “Unfortunately, that is not the case. For the RTA to claim in an email dated Sept. 20 that no follow up testing has been done or that the School Department is not addressing the need for increased air flow in these three buildings, or that they are unaware of the work we have been doing, is misleading at best. Despite the RTA’s continued disinformation campaign, the school department and the School Committee will continue to follow the agreed upon MOU.”