State Department of Education assessing airflow quality at 7 Oʻahu schools

File photo. PC: state of Hawaiʻi, Office of the Governor.

The Hawai‘i State Department of Education is working with seven O‘ahu schools to assess ventilation quality in classrooms to determine if additional resources are needed to increase air exchange.

As part of a study initiated in September 2021, HIDOE contractors assessed carbon dioxide levels in classrooms identified as potentially having limited ventilation.

Of the 12,000 classrooms in public schools statewide, approximately 10% or 1,261 classrooms, have limited access to outside air due to central air conditioning.

The remaining classrooms have access to outside air with windows and doors, and are able to naturally increase airflow in the classroom, according to the department.

A total of 335 classrooms were equipped with carbon dioxide sensors that tracked levels for 12 hours a day on weekdays, excluding holidays and school breaks. The data collected informed the estimated carbon dioxide levels for the remaining classrooms based on similar room configurations and air conditioning supply.

The average of the highest 5% of all carbon dioxide readings was used to rank classrooms into five tiers to prioritize classrooms that warrant further actions to increase ventilation. 

The table below indicates the number of classrooms within each tier. The carbon dioxide levels infer the probability of breathing in another’s exhalation; the higher the levels, the greater the probability. Carbon dioxide levels are measured by parts per million (ppm), or 0.0001%.

Tier 1 (<800 ppm)337 rooms
Tier 2 (800–1100 ppm)525 rooms
Tier 3 (1100–1500 ppm)304 rooms
Tier 4 (1500–2000 ppm)70 rooms
Tier 5 (>2000 ppm)3 rooms

The HIDOE’s Office of Facilities and Operations is following up on the classrooms identified in Tiers 4 and 5 to ensure steps are being taken to improve air quality to the extent possible.

The Department’s latest COVID-19 Health and Safety Guidance includes an updated section on ventilation with steps to take to improve ventilation in classrooms based on a classroom’s access to outside air.

The 73 rooms ranked in Tiers 4 and 5 include 67 classrooms and six other rooms including office and storage space, a workroom and resource room. They are located at the following seven schools on O‘ahu:

  • Kauluwela Elementary: 24 classrooms 
  • Keone‘ula Elementary: 19 classrooms
  • McKinley High: 10 classrooms, 6 rooms 
  • Pu‘uhale Elementary: 8 classrooms in library
  • Royal Elementary: 3 classrooms
  • Mililani High: 1 classroom
  • Mililani Middle: 2 classrooms

The Department reports it has taken the following steps to improve overall indoor air quality at schools to reduce the risk of airborne spread of COVID-19.

  • To facilitate outside air exchange, 12,000 20-inch box fans were centrally purchased and distributed for every HIDOE classroom prior to the 2021-2022 school year. 
  • Over 4,000 HEPA air cleaners have been distributed to schools to increase air exchange in air-conditioned spaces, especially in rooms lacking windows or doors that open to outside). 
  • Schools were also given the opportunity to build their own CorsiRosenthal air cleaners with MERV-13 filters and box fans purchased by the Office of Facilities and Operations. 
  • The Office of Facilities and Operations also purchased 600 carbon dioxide sensors and distributed them, with instructions for proper use, to schools statewide for schools to assess the carbon dioxide levels in their rooms.

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