Nova Scotia education minister under pressure to release school ventilation test results

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Nova Scotia’s education minister is under pressure to release the results from ventilation inspections in schools across the province. Zach Churchill promised the inspections, repairs and upgrades as part of the plan to make schools safe during COVID-19. Elizabeth McSheffrey has the story – Jan 18, 2021

Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill is under renewed pressure from teachers and parents to release the results of ventilation system inspections conducted in schools across the province.

It’s been roughly five months since he promised inspections, repairs and upgrades would be completed on those systems as part of the plan to make schools safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The education department assures the work has been done, but without the results in front of them, Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education — an online advocacy group with more than 17,000 members — says families are being left in the dark.

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“We want to know that there are measures in place, we want to know that if we were to come across some outbreaks, there is some sense of security in the schools,” said Stacey Rudderham, co-chair of the group and a mother of two junior high school students in Fall River, N.S.

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“It is concerning, especially because this is the time of year where they expect more spread, and more people to be impacted by being in closed quarters like this.”

Parent worries are mounting, she added, as a new strain of the virus makes its way around the globe, and the threat of cold weather means schools without adequate ventilation systems may need to shut their windows.

“One of my daughters is in a portable, so I’m not sure what the ventilation system is other than opening the window.”

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In a written statement, Churchill, who was not available for an interview Monday, said ventilation checks have been completed at every school in the province and will continue throughout 2021 “out of an abundance of caution.”

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“Our school ventilation system checks are in line with recommendations in recent guidance released by the Public Health Agency of Canada,” he wrote.

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“The guidance notes that increased ventilation, through opening windows, the use of heating, ventilation, or air conditioning (HVAC) systems, is an additional step that can support other recommended public health measures, like proper mask wearing and hand hygiene.”

Churchill did not however, commit to publishing the data, and he declined to answer why his department is not in possession of any records or data pertaining to the ventilation checks it has performed.

READ MORE: N.S. education minister faces backlash over comments about ventilation in schools

Last month, the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party received results from a freedom-of-information request, seeking results and records pertaining to the ventilation system inspections from Education Department.

As of Dec. 11, 2020 — three months into the school year — no such records existed within the department.

“The Department does not routinely receive results for school air quality testing,” read the provincial response to the party’s request.

“This data would be held by the Regional Centres for Education and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial.”

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Both Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) are calling on Churchill to either obtain that information himself and release it, or ask that the RCEs and CSAP release it themselves.

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“Especially where there are sort of life-and-death implications, it’s seems silly to me — unfathomable to me — that the Department of Education at this point has not yet compelled entities to share that information,” said NSTU president Paul Wozney.

“If there’s data to say that air is safe and good in schools, I can’t understand for the life of me why that data wouldn’t be made public yesterday.”

Global News has requested the ventilation check data from all RCEs and CSAP.

In December, the education department announced it would allocate $2.7 million of its federal safe return to class funding to continue ventilation system inspections in every school throughout the year.

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