MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Next week, the largest school district in the state will return to in-person learning for some students.
Anoka-Hennepin will start with kindergarten through second grade, followed by third through fifth grade. But as children get ready to return, the district has made a big investment in safety.
Inside every filtration system, in all 47 school buildings that make up the Anoka Hennepin School district, there is now a virus-destroying device called Bipolar Ionization technology. The machine pumps ions into the classrooms and the ions deactivate any particles and bacteria in the air, including the COVID virus.
"There's a constant air flow going through the system," said Steve Anderson, who works with the district. "As I walk through the room, I'm roughly getting 1,000 - 4,000 ions."
If COVID-19 particles are in the air of a classroom, the ionization system will eliminate 99.4% of the virus in 30 minutes. In 15 minutes, it can eliminate 92.6%, and can destroy 84.2% in 10 minutes.
"What we've really done is we've made it safer to be in our facilities, I truly believe that," he said.
In a statement to WCCO, the President of the Anoka Hennepin Teacher Union says teachers want to be back in the classroom, but safety is a concern.
They're thankful for the added safeguards, but are concerned about the inability to safely distance, the unknown transmission of the new COVID variant and the fact that teachers have not yet been vaccinated.
Anderson assures staff and students their buildings are safer now than before the COVID pandemic.
"I'm excited, I think this is what I'd call a 'game changer' in school systems ventilation," said Anderson.
Anderson says this technology has a long term benefit past the time of the pandemic. It will help clear classroom air of the flu virus, dust, mold, and allergens.
The East Carver County School district and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester are the only other buildings in Minnesota that have installed Bi-Polar Ionization Technology.
Anoka County buildings as well as a few other school districts, private schools and assisted living facilities have installed Bipolar Ionization Technology in the last six to eight months.
The full statement from the President of the Anoka-Hennepin Education MN:
First, let me make this main point: TEACHERS WANT TO TEACH AND BE BACK IN THE CLASSROOM. We miss our students and know face-to-face instruction is the best way for our students to learn. However, we want to do it safely.
Teaching is not like most other jobs, as teaching requires close contact with students for longer periods of time, which is a dangerous situation if the student has been exposed to the virus either in school, at home or out in the community.
Educators in our district are concerned about returning to a full face-to-face instructional model because of the lack of space that the Minnesota Department of Health indicates as "safe." Anoka-Hennepin's buildings do not allow for that degree of distancing. They are also concerned about the new, more infectious COVID-19 variant and the scientific uncertainty around the transmission of the virus by children. We're also still waiting for a clear plan for vaccinating educators and school staff.
It is to no fault of district administrators that they are not able to meet the MDH and Minnesota Department of Education guidelines. They simply do not have space. And we acknowledge the district has gone above and beyond to try and make our classrooms as safe as possible, despite the challenges. Providing PPE, plexiglass shields, COVID-19 testing, and installing ionization systems should help considerably, but all of these measures still fall short of the state's Safe Learning Plan's recommendations. The District's measures do not alleviate educator concerns.
Therefore, Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota Local 7007 building representatives sent this message to the Superintendent and the School Board on Monday night asking for them to delay in-person learning until teachers are vaccinated. - Val Holthus, President, AHEM
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