By Maggie Macintosh
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
First Nations school buses may soon be equipped with air purifiers, as education leaders consider ways to improve ventilation across the K-12 system amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre is looking into purchasing portable filtration systems for on-reserve yellow buses.
“We want to make sure that we’re addressing health and safety, right from the time (children) get into the school system and out,”
said Charles Cochrane, executive director of the centre, which oversees the Manitoba First Nations School System.
Cochrane said parents and staff members continue to feel anxious about viral transmission both inside and outside classrooms.
Manitoba stopped enforcing virtually all pandemic protocols, from education worker vaccine mandates to indoor classroom masking requirements, by March 15.
School buses must meet heating performance levels, but there are no specific provincial guidelines for ventilation.
About 40 buses make up the fleet used to transport pupils to and from class in the 11 communities in which the Indigenous school board oversees daily instruction.
Although the First Nations (Bloodvein, Brokenhead, Dakota Plains, Dakota Tipi, Fox Lake, Keeseekoowenin, Lake Manitoba, Lake St.
Martin, Pinaymootang, Roseau River, and York Factory) own their respective buses, the operators are school system employees.
During a driver training session last week, a representative from Delos Canada, the local branch of an international company that develops, researches and certifies products that “enhance health and well-being in the spaces where we live, work, learn and play’,’ spoke about ventilation.
Cochrane invited the research company’s president to discuss the Aura Air portable air purifier, a product Delos Canada recently started recommending for school buses, at the event in Winnipeg.
The school board previously purchased air purifiers for classrooms and other K-12 common areas through the distributor.
Public awareness around poor air quality and its negative impacts has surged since March 2020.
Education leaders have implemented safety measures in school buildings, but the president of Delos Canada said they may have forgotten about the air quality on morning and afternoon student commutes.
At the same time, Brandon Crombeen said ramped up cleaning on buses can expose students and staff to product off-gassing.
Buses typically rely on doors opening and closing, as well as windows being left open, to enhance ventilation _ a challenge during Canadian winters, Crombeen said, adding some vehicles have air conditioning units with filtration built into them.
“There is not a solution that can completely take away (COVID-19
transmission) risk,” he said. “But? putting in place solutions that have the ability to remove those particles, not have them be stagnant in the environment, as well as circulating through an environment, is obviously a key step in protecting against it.”
Crombeen said the device in question has a three-stage filtration system, including: a pre-filter that captures large particles; a carbon mechanical filter that traps smaller particles and absorbs gaseous pollutants; and a UV-C LED light that can inactivate mould, bacteria and airborne pathogens.
Alongside social distancing and masking, air purification is a valuable tool that should be part of a broader strategy to create “the healthiest indoor space,” he said.
Divisions are responsible for purchasing buses; however, a provincial spokesperson said Manitoba Education would work with administrators “to assess the appropriateness for installation,”
if there was interest in setting-up air filtration devices.
“All school buses must have operable windows and emergency exit roof hatchets that, dependent on weather and road conditions, can provide ventilation to assist with control interior comfort,” the spokesperson said in an email.
A single portable Aura Air device comes at a price tag of approximately $800. Delos Canada recommends three devices be installed in a 71-passenger bus.
Cochrane estimates it would cost roughly $4,000, installation included, to outfit a conventional bus. As far as he is concerned, the safety benefits appear to outweigh the expense.
“Bus drivers are (susceptible) to catching COVID, just like anybody. They’re the front-liners. Who sees the kids first? Not the teachers, not the school. It’s actually the bus drivers, first and last, on any school day,” he said.
Maggie Macintosh is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS. The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.