Calgary parents have filed a complaint with the province’s engineering regulatory body over safe ventilation in Calgary Board of Education schools.
The complaint, which has been confirmed by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA), stems from “concerns about the engineering ethical and skill requirements to implementation of ventilation and filtration mitigations for Covid-19 in schools.”
Amanda Hu is one of the complainants. She said this complaint is the culmination of three years of concern from parents about proper classroom ventilation during Covid. She’s talked with hundreds of parents who are concerned about this issue, she said.
The issue has been heightened with dramatic rates of absenteeism reported recently in city schools.
She said despite ongoing questions about air filtration in Calgary public schools, the CBE has maintained that filters have been upgraded and they are mechanically ventilated.
“This was all very vague,” Hu told LiveWire Calgary on Thursday.
“In looking at the guidelines set out by AHS and Alberta Health and Alberta Education, the guidelines are fairly clear – and this was not reflected in (CBE) responses.”
Often during the pandemic parents have wanted portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters brought into classrooms. Many have said those requests have been denied. HEPA filters can help filter out particles that contain viruses. The Public Health Agency of Canada has guidelines.
In an initial response to LiveWire Calgary, the CBE said that MERV 13 filters were added, where possible, in Calgary schools. They also said the filters are being changed more frequently.
“In addition, all CBE schools are mechanically ventilated and systems are set to maximize air exchange,” the wrote in a response.
“Portable air cleaning devices are generally recommended when no mechanical ventilation exists, which means when windows are the only ventilation. As our schools are mechanically ventilated, we have not installed these portable devices.”
They also said that over the past two school years, schools have been inspected and are fully compliant with government regulations.
Same responses to the parents
Hu said these responses are, nearly verbatim, what the CBE has sent back to them.
She said she’s acquired documents under Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that show provincial health authorities’ correspondence with schools.
“In the documentation that I’ve seen from the FOI, there were specific documents that were sent to schools from AHS… that stipulate air cleaners can be used in classrooms, that it’s a beneficial measure,” she said.
Hu said the complaint has three signatures on it, with a fourth that’s a supplementary complaint.
Another complainant, CBE parent and licensed P.Eng, Jennifer Haverhals, said parents have faced pushback from the public board.
“As an engineer, when it became clear that COVID was airborne and that engineering processes and tools could be used to assess and help mitigate the risks associated with COVID and other respiratory illnesses, it was actually exciting to me, because now I felt that I could actually do something to help protect my family,” Haverhals said.
She added that in August 2021 APEGA made submissions to Alberta ministries about the importance of ventilation and filtration in places like classrooms.
APEGA confirmed the complaint Friday morning. They said all complaints are subject to review. They also confirmed that the Architectural and Engineering Services of the Calgary Board of Education is an APEGA permit holder.
“If a discipline decision is made based on the review of the complaint, we will publish it on our website,” wrote Gisela Hippolt-Squair, director of member engagement and communications.
More questions for the CBE
The media release sent out by the parent group said that the CBE doesn’t make student and staff absentee rates easily available.
This week, the CBE began publishing absenteeism rates in all of their schools. They sent an email out to parents with an update on illnesses in schools.
LWC posed several other questions to them on Thursday afternoon. Those questions were acknowledged Friday morning. A later response on Friday said key personnel weren’t available and to follow up next week.
The questions we asked were measures being taken or that are available in schools.
- There used to be a published list, but it hasn’t been updated since May. Is there an updated copy?
- What measures are being taken in schools that don’t have them, or upgraded filtration/ventilation systems?
- Have schools been measured for air quality as it pertains to pathogens?
- Given guidelines saying that HEPA filters could be used in classrooms, why aren’t the devices being allowed in classes, or if they’re brought in, they’re being confiscated? Why, if they can help air quality?
LWC will update the story when a response to these questions is received.
Earlier this year there were calls to include HEPA filters in classrooms. In some case, like in Edmonton, HEPA filters were funded. Some Calgary schools also self-funded the filters, but they were later removed, according to an article in the Calgary Herald.
Hu said that the hope with the complaint is that action will be taken. She said students, staff and families are being told that because schools meet the standards that they’re safe from potential infection.
“We would hope that there would be some action more quickly if the administration was aware that these standards were not being met,” Hu said.
A timeline on the APEGA review wasn’t initially available.