U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz wants to know how private and public school leaders are ensuring proper ventilation in schools as kids gradually return to the classroom this year.

Citing studies that show aerosol transmission can contribute to the spread of COVID-19, including within distances greater than 6 feet, Schatz this week sent letters to Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and Hawaii Association of Independent Schools’ Executive Director Phil Bossert asking how they’re addressing the issue.

“As schools prepare to reopen for in-person learning, it is important that we take every precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within schools and to keep our students, families, teachers, and other school workers safe,” he wrote.

Schatz included a list of questions, such as whether schools have enough fans, what they’ve done to improve central air filtration and whether schools have considered holding class outdoors.

Mililani High School Building H.
Sen. Brian Schatz wants to know what schools are doing to keep air circulating in closed classrooms. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“If that option (outdoor classrooms) is not being considered, why not?” Schatz said in the letter to Kishimoto.

Many private schools have already seen the return of students to campus. Larger ones, such as Iolani, plan to bring back its K-12 student body for in-person instruction starting Friday while Punahou will bring students back on a staggered basis starting Oct. 5.

The Hawaii DOE, meanwhile, is giving school complex areas the option to return to a blended learning model beginning with the second quarter on Oct. 12. Right now, all DOE schools are doing distance learning with most students learning from home.

HAIS’s Bossert on Thursday said about 40% of the smaller private schools have had students back on campus for the last month. Some, like Le Jardin Academy, have set up large outdoor tents on their grounds as additional classrooms. He also noted that about 90% of private schools are housed in buildings with windows on all sides that allow for cross-ventilation.

In July, the DOE released guidance on prevention measures of aerosol transmission in classrooms. Among the suggestions in that document were to disable any air-conditioning and to open all jalousie windows during school hours.

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