A letter shared on social media, written by a school within the Marguerie-Bourgeoys service centre, is generating controversy and raising questions about equality in French public schools, as well as private and Anglophone schools.
The letter was sent to parents after some of them had purchased air purifiers to be installed in their children’s classroom.
In the letter, the school commends the action but said it was not allowed to purchase or install the machines because Public Health does not approve them.
“On December 4th, our service centre issued a very clear directive: air purifiers are forbidden in all our educational institutions,” the letter read.
“In effect, the INSPQ (Institut de Santé Publique du Québec) doesn’t recommend them because most air purifiers intended for domestic use are not calibrated to properly work with an air volume comparable to that of a classroom.”
The letter went on to say that some commercial air purifiers don’t respect very precise installation norms. “This society even considers that in certain cases, its use can be counterproductive,” the letter said.
However, in an email to Global News, Quebec’s education ministry says it has never forbidden the use of air purifiers.
“Only Public Health directives have been communicated to Francophone service centres and English School Boards. We’ve always followed Public Health’s recommendations and always will,” wrote Geneviève Côté, a spokesperson for the ministry.
Côté said so far, neither the INSPQ nor Public Health have recommended the use of air purifiers.
“The best approach consists in applying the INSPQ’s recommendations, knowing how to properly maintain existing ventilation systems and keep them working non-stop during the day and opening windows in classes without mechanic ventilation without students in them three times a day for 15-20 minutes,” Côté wrote.
The education ministry also noted that their sample studies show ventilation in schools is appropriate, that they are performing more air quality tests and that if they find something isn’t working properly, they will adjust.
Not all schools Quebec have equal access to air purifiers
Olivier Drouin, a concerned parent and the man behind COVID-Écoles Quebec, a website tracking COVID-19 cases in Quebec schools, says he’s received hundreds of comments on his account from parents lamenting the contents of the letter.
“Their concern is that they’re not getting the same treatment as English school boards or private schools,” Drouin said.
“That the science has spoken, that this is not ‘means to an end’ but the air purifier is a proven method — especially for natural ventilation classes that don’t have the luxury of having a centralized mechanized system, which is the case of 50 per cent of schools in Quebec.”
At the Quebec National Assembly, several members of opposition parties condemned the restriction.
“Why do children that go to a private school deserve to be better protected than children in public schools? I mean, this is absurd,” said Québec solidaire’s co-spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
“We should not take any risks, any chance with the health of our children.”
The Marguerite-Bourgeoys service centre said it is applying all advice from public health.
“We are making sure we put in place all recommendations from the Education Ministry, including the choice of filters in the ventilation systems,” Annie Bourrassa, a spokesperson for the service centre, wrote in an email to Global News.
“The safety of staff and students remains our priority.”
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