How to use American Rescue Plan funds to improve school ventilation

On July 23, the U.S. Department of Education released a resource guide, “Improving Ventilation in Schools, Colleges, and Universities to Prevent COVID-19.”

With local educational agencies across the country preparing for a full return to in-person instruction for the 2021–22 school year, the document details how American Rescue Plan funds can be spent to improve ventilation systems and indoor air quality.

“Protecting our schools and communities from the spread of COVID-19 is the first step in bringing more students back to in-person learning and reemerging from this crisis even stronger than we were before,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “With the American Rescue Plan, schools and districts now have access to unprecedented resources that will enable them to ensure proper ventilation and maintain healthy learning and working environments. At the department, we are committed to helping communities identify how to use these resources quickly and effectively as they prepare to welcome all students back to in-person learning this fall.”

Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund — given $122 billion from the ARP —and Governors Emergency Education Relief money can be used for immediate and long-term projects.

Outlined by the Department of Education is information on how LEAs can invest ARP funds and money from previous relief efforts to immediately better indoor air quality by taking steps like getting equipment inspected, repaired or replaced. Funds can also be used for a number of related projects including purchasing portable air filtration units, fans or MERV-13 filters for HVAC systems as well as repairing windows and doors and buying equipment to implement outdoor classes.

Also provided is a list of strategies for improving ventilation.

These funding opportunities lay the foundation for improvements.

California schools require investments in clean air for reasons beyond the pandemic. Wildfires, which spark annually throughout the state, cause learning disruptions and pose health risks.

In an EdSource op-ed published July 29, Zoe Lew, a research assistant for the Sean N. Parker Center on Allergy and Asthma Research, Lisa Patel, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, and Erika Veidis, planetary health program manager at the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health said HVAC systems should be filtering pollution and infectious particles from the air to protect from “threats of heat, wildfires and pandemics.”

“Before the pandemic, schoolchildren in California had started to miss an increasing number of school days due to wildfires. Schools close for evacuation or because they lack the protocols and infrastructure to keep indoor air quality safe during poor air quality days,” the three wrote. “The state has increased infrastructure investments in schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic that could be beneficial for schools’ wildfires readiness as well, but substantially more funding and support will be needed to help schools navigate the worsening threats of climate change.”

Two funding streams that can assist LEAs in improving HVAC systems and infrastructure are CalSHAPE and the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. For more COVID-related resources for schools, students and families from the Department of Education, click here.