Andrew Scallion is the president of the Richmond District Parent advisory Council. He believes the provincial government could have acted faster to improve ventilation in classrooms, especially after the arrival of COVID-19. Scallion is pictured at Diefenbaker Elementary in Richmond, which is scheduled to have its ventilation updated this school year. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG


About 50 schools across B.C. are scheduled for upgrades to their ventilation systems during this academic year, so that the air in these crowded buildings is safer for kids and teachers during the pandemic.


These improvements, funded through the Education Ministry’s capital budget, are in addition to the 84 schools that had HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system updates in the 2020-21 academic year.


The province, however, has nearly 1,600 public schools. So once these projects are completed at these 125 or so schools over the two years since COVID arrived, how many of the remaining schools still need this type of work?


Finding an answer to this question was impossible because there is no centralized list. The ministry has left it up to each of B.C.’s 60 school boards to decide which buildings need ventilation upgrades and how those improvements should be achieved. The ministry has also left communication about these plans with the districts, and as a result many parents and teachers were left frustrated about a lack of clear answers.


“There are some differences in approach that districts have taken around how they’re communicating that information. And we need to work with them to make sure that there’s a particular standard of information that’s being communicated across the district,” Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said Wednesday.


Thursday, in a statement to Postmedia, the ministry promised change. Districts will now be required to post HVAC system reports on their websites “so staff, parents, families, students and the public can read about air quality systems that are in place in their schools.” The reports will also be posted together on the ministry’s website by Nov. 1.


Since the arrival of the pandemic, the ministry says, higher standards have been required for inspection and maintenance of HVAC systems in schools, as well as to improve air quality and mitigate against virus transmission. The standards are from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.