Air filtration units removed from SCUSD classrooms over COVID-19 effectiveness concerns

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Newly-purchased air filtration units have been removed from classrooms in the Sacramento City Unified School District after concerns were raised about their usefulness against COVID-19.

The district agreed to purchase 688 ultraviolet air filtration units last November for over $6 million in order to safely reopen classrooms for in-person learning, even though it was not required to do so.

The manufacturer’s website site touts its ability to provide multilayer purification. 

“Provides two layers of protection for particulate matter, as well as UVC technology that can address the virus,” Tara Gallegos, the district’s communications director, told FOX40.

But an investigation by the Sacramento Bee quoted experts saying the portable units filter too little air for classrooms and that ultraviolet light technology to kill viruses in the air is unproven.

There were also questions about possible harmful gases that might be emitted from the units.

The Sacramento City Teachers Association said they raised concerns before the purchase.

“We had found out prior to the purchase that the experts were saying there wasn’t sufficient science to back up the claim,” said David Fisher, president of the teachers association.

But the district says those concerns came after the spending decision by the school board, which included public comment.

Nevertheless, units were removed from classrooms this week — at least temporarily.

“In our efforts to go above and beyond, we are taking the extra step in testing these units,” Gallegos said.

They will be examined to see if any harmful gases are emitted by the units.

The district says it was working under a deadline to spend government coronavirus funding, that the units were looked at carefully and they were the only units that didn’t require an expensive overhaul of existing school ventilation systems.

The teachers association agrees that air filtration is a good idea but said the district acted too soon. 

“That’s a lot of money,” Fisher said. “It’s the biggest purchase the district has made with these emergency funds that the federal government has made available, so it really is a big setback.”

The district has already put down 20% of its purchase order. They will start testing the units next week and release the findings soon after.

SCUSD says one of the reasons for the additional testing is that it’s important for the public to have confidence in the safety of its classrooms for parents, students and teachers.

The district also says existing ventilation units will be upgraded to more effective filters where possible.

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