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Dear Decaturish – DeKalb teachers should be given a choice

COVID-19 Editor's Pick

Dear Decaturish – DeKalb teachers should be given a choice

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William Hodge, 12, a seventh grader at Druid Hills Middle School and his mother Emily Klimkiewicz came out to support DeKalb County School District teachers Dec. 29, during a protest against the return to in person schooling in January. Emily, who also has a daughter attending Druid Hills High School said.” It’s insane to go back now with the rates higher than ever. It makes no sense. Its infuriating.” William said. “Teachers give us homework, but they also give us our future.” Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Dear Decaturish,

Earlier today, I stopped by the protest rally being held by the Organization of DeKalb Educators (ODE) to show my support. ODE was protesting the DeKalb County School District’s (DCSD) plan to resume in-person instruction. There were over 100 protesters present while I was there. 

The reasons those teachers were protesting have to do with not being given any real choices regarding how; they return to work, they can manage their home lives, and they can stay safe. 

I want to discuss that last part, safety.

COVID-19 is an airborne pathogen. It is also spread through droplets like colds and flus. What airborne means is the virus is small enough to be suspended in the air and be carried by air currents. The airborne aspect of COVID-19 is why it spreads more easily than the flu and why DCSD school buildings will NOT be safe for teachers. 

For the last ten years, the DCSD operations division has done no preventive maintenance on the HVAC systems in DCSD buildings. The average age of schools in DeKalb County is over 35 years and very few of the more than 130 schools (not counting Charter Schools) have gotten HVAC upgrades. The result is the majority of schools have old, neglected HVAC systems. That doesn’t even begin to take into consideration the three hundred trailers. 

To give readers an indication of the state of disrepair, in 2019, it took an average of 71 days for DCSD to close a HVAC REPAIR work order. (Calculated using the information posted on this page. https://www.dekalbschoolsga.org/operations/facilities-maintenance/

Beginning in July, I attended a series of webinars put on by the EPA which discussed reopening schools safely. https://www.epa.gov/iaq-schools/healthy-indoor-environments-schools-plans-practices-and-principles-maintaining-healthy 

Some of the take-aways from that series include:

– Most schools are under ventilated

– You can’t put MERV-13 filters in HVAC systems not designed for them or you will reduce ventilation. MERV-13 is the rating of filters that will catch viruses. Any lower number will let viruses through.

– The best way to keep schools healthy is to keep sick people out of them

– Monthly preventive maintenance is recommended for HVAC systems including monthly filter changes. 

The majority of DCSD schools are under ventilated and their HVAC systems are not capable of using MERV-13 filters. 

DCSD is not requiring students to have temperature checks even though the administration knows parents will send students to school when they should be quarantined. 

The operations division has promised quarterly preventive HVAC maintenance and bi-monthly filter changes. 

Additionally, most schools and trailers will not meet the amount of ventilation recommended for classrooms to reduce the risk of airborne spread of COVID-19. The exact amount depends on which guideline you read. Some are given in cubic feet per minute (cfm) and some are given in air exchanges per hour. All recommendations are for amounts of ventilation far beyond what the majority of HVAC systems are capable of delivering. 

I support teachers who are fearful of returning to DCSD schools, regardless of their reason. 

I also support teachers and parents who are willing to return to in-person instruction. 

Teachers should be given a choice. 

– Kirk Lunde

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