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Big Changes at Chesterfield Schools for New Health Standards

Robious Elementary School
The Chesterfield County School District has slowly been accepting students back into the buildings over the past few weeks, as students transition from a virtual classroom to a hybrid plan. To help mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus, the district has been prepping buildings since summer. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Chesterfield students are slowly coming back to physical classrooms as COVID-19 risk metrics continue to trend downward in the county. 

But before doors could be opened for students, Chesterfield’s chief operations officer, Josh Davis, said school buildings had to be updated for new health standards..

“We’ve been working really hard to come out of this pandemic,” Davis said. “The priority is for support to opening schools. We are doing our best to ensure that we’re thoroughly cleaned, that we’ve got good air quality and that we’ve got [protective equipment] in place.”

At a recent School Board meeting, Davis told members that his staff have already installed thousands of motion sensors to replace light switches and toilet handles. They’ve also installed 1,300 partitions in restrooms, and will finish that task by the end of 2020.

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New markings and signage are being installed to remind students about social distancing, and drinking fountains are being replaced  with water bottle filling stations. Davis said they’ve installed 230 stations so far, and plan to install almost 500 more by September 2021. 

The cost of those dispensers, just over $500,000, will be paid for using funds from the CARES Act. 

Davis is also working on air quality issues.

Roughly 36,000 public schools nationwide have inadequate ventilation systems according to a recent report put out by the Government Accountability Office. Although the CDC says “there is not yet clear evidence that ventilation systems spread the virus from space to space causing exposures,” Davis’ team is upgrading air filters to MERV 13, a standard recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

Davis says they’re on track to finish around Nov. 9, when the last students are expected to return to in-person education. “We’re up to 34 schools to MERV 13. That’s been about 10 more in the last week or two. And we’re on the great path to be there by mid-November for all of the schools,” he said.

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For students in trailers at 40 schools, the maintenance department is also using CARES funds to purchase special high efficiency air purifiers.

According to NPR, that can offer an extra layer of protection: “Portable air cleaners can limit the spread of the virus via long-range airborne particles by capturing most of those particles in a HEPA filter and cleaning the air at a rate of up to six times per hour.” 

Davis described the district as on track to safely welcome students back, even as they continue working on the longer-range improvements.

“We’ve got a big checklist for the schools. Those disposable things, the hand sanitizers, the disinfectant, the wipes, the spray bottles, those are things they will continue to consume and we will continue to have a great stockpile,” Davis said, adding that these items, including protective gear such as gloves, isolation gowns for students, face shield and masks, will be inventoried twice a week and replaced on a regular basis using funding from the CARES Act.