Noah Webster Microsociety Magnet School in Hartford Credit: Courtesy of UConn Health

Connecticut’s largest teachers union isn’t taking anything for granted. A new survey found that voters overwhelmingly support improving air ventilation in schools. 

In 2022, the state allocated $150 million to help upgrade heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in Connecticut public schools to improve air filtration, but the Connecticut Education Association said hundreds of school buildings are still in dire need of improvement. 

According to the survey of 800 voters, a whopping 91% say they support establishing temperature and humidity standards to eliminate poor air quality that results in mold and contributes to respiratory health problems for students and staff. Fifty-seven percent strongly support this proposal.

“This isn’t a new problem,” CEA President Kate Dias said. “Too many Connecticut classrooms have heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that are aging, in disrepair, or in urgent need of replacement. The need for new and updated HVAC systems is about ensuring we have safe, healthy school communities where teachers can teach and students can learn.”

The survey also found that 88% of voters support requiring districts to show they are meeting school indoor air quality standards. More than half, 54%, strongly support this proposal.

“Right now, districts don’t have to report maintenance of their HVAC systems, and schools don’t have to have minimum or maximum temperature standards for students. Classrooms are poorly ventilated and cold in the winter, with students having to wear coats and gloves indoors. In the warmer months they are sweltering, leaving students unable to concentrate on learning due to high heat and humidity levels,” Dias said.

By way of comparison, laws prohibit temperatures in pet stores from going below 65 degrees or above 78 degrees.

“The absence of standards in statute means we are allowing kids to sit in 95-degree classrooms, we are allowing windows to be kept open in winter, we are allowing our students and our teachers to get sick and to work in very inhospitable conditions,” Dias explains. “Improving the air in our schools says we as a state care. It says protecting the health and safety of everyone in our public schools is of paramount importance. It says we’re invested. It says our public schools are great places to grow and to work.”

When it comes to funding, 89% of voters support identifying funding sources, such as school construction grants, to assist cities and towns with installations or repairs to heating and cooling systems.

“Too often, when budget cuts hit school districts, the first thing to go is maintenance, and that’s one of the main reasons so many of our school HVAC systems are in poor condition,” Dias said.

Over the past several years, CEA has seen an uptick in workers’ compensation claims related to poor indoor air quality in schools across the state.

For four years, educators have been urging lawmakers to establish school temperature limits, require HVAC and air quality monitoring standards, and institute other measures to ensure school buildings remain free from toxins and other hazards that can harm children and educators.

Last year, a coalition of groups tried to get the state to allow local governments to use federal COVID funds to help make the repairs. While the administration was sympathetic, it still hasn’t happened. 

“Educators and voters agree that funds must be made available to assist districts with installing, repairing, or upgrading heating and cooling systems in school buildings,” Dias said. “Many districts applied for limited federal and state grants that expired last year, and now it’s time for the state to allow school construction grants and other available funding to be used for these much-needed HVAC projects.”