As a parent, the excitement surrounding the prospect of returning to in-person teaching and learning at our children’s school is welcome. It is also pervasive nationwide, as parents everywhere begin to think about a resumption of familiar routines, whether their children are in grade school, high school, or off to college.
For some time to come, however, airborne contagions will remain at the forefront of our collective thoughts. Until the pandemic is visible in the rearview mirror, so to speak, facilities teams, administrators, and school boards must continue to assess academic buildings’ ventilation to ensure student, faculty, and staff safety.
As of this writing, the CDC has released new guidelines for social distancing in classrooms, reinforcing the need for masking and other protections while allowing for a distance of three feet between desks instead of six. Only a few weeks earlier, a special report from The New York Times took a look at classroom ventilation, with the authors and editors partnering with leading schools of public health as well as engineering consultants. Their analysis of short-term strategies—opening a window regardless of the weather, with or without a box fan placed in the opening—suggests that such interventions can indeed reduce any remaining risk of transmission.
This is all very encouraging. Speaking as both an architect and a parent, students need to be in an environment other than the home when learning. (The same goes for teachers, who find their jobs are much more difficult when performed remotely.) But The New York Times report neglects a critical area of discussion: cost.