7 immediate ESSER actions campuses can take to improve air quality

Relief funds can be used to set up outdoor classrooms and pay for increased heating and cooling costs

Campus leaders seeking to improve ventilation can use American Rescue Plan funds to provide additional layers of air quality protection in preventing the spread of COVID in classrooms.

The Department of Education on Friday released a guide to help higher ed administrtors take immediate action to inspect, test, repair, replace and upgrade their facilities. This can This work can include filtering, purification, air cleaning fans, and window and door repair.

Funds can also be used to set up outdoor classrooms, pay for increased heating and cooling costs and purchase portable air filtration units and carbon dioxide monitors.

“Protecting our schools and communities from the spread of COVID-19 is the first step in bringing more students back to in-person learning and reemerging from this crisis even stronger than we were before,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “With the American Rescue Plan, schools and districts now have access to unprecedented resources that will enable them to ensure proper ventilation and maintain healthy learning and working environments.”

The department encourages leaders to communicate clearly to communities, parents, students, and faculty that actions are being taken to improve ventilation. This information should be disseminated in simple language and widely accessible on school websites.

Here are several more strategies for improving ventilation, based on current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency:

  1. Bring in as much outdoor air as possible. Open windows wherever it is safe to do so, including in classrooms and on school buses and other transportation. Where safe, opening doors can also improve airflow. Fans increase the impact of open windows and doors.
  2. Hold classes, activities, and meals outdoors when safe and feasible.
  3. Use HVAC settings to maximize ventilation. Set systems to bring in as much outdoor air as possible, including for 2 hours before and after occupancy, and reduce or eliminate air recirculation.
  4. Ensuring exhaust fans in restrooms and kitchens are working properly and using them during occupancy and for 2 hours afterward to remove particles from the air. Keep all fans and filters clean to maximize airflow.
  5. Filtering and cleaning the air. Upgrade HVAC filters to minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV)-13, or the highest MERV rating a building’s ventilation system can accommodate. Consider using portable air cleaners that use filtration technology, such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.
  6. Consider using portable carbon dioxide monitors. These devices can verify how well air is circulating in classrooms and other spaces. School maintenance professionals may also use airflow capture hoods, anemometers, and qualitative tracer techniques to assess airflow.


Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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