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Madison City Residents Present School Board with "Crowd-Funded" Proposal for Buying HEPA Filters

Madison, Alabama residents have raised money for Madison City Schools to significantly improve ventilation and/or add as many as 3,000 portable HEPA filters to classrooms in response to Covid. The cost for three years is between $1.7M–$2.9M. But how and when did residents amass this money? They did it when they paid their federal taxes and then gave that crowd-funded money to schools by way of the CARES Act, CRRSA, and ARP Act.

The ARP Act says Local Educational Agencies must engage in "meaningful consultation" with stakeholders. Our co-founders and other Madison residents sought this meaningful consultation when they asked Madison City Schools to heed the authoritative recommendations and studies on how to keep students healthy, in class, and focused on success.

Proposal for HEPA Filters

Because Madison City Schools has not indicated any plan to act on this information, our co-founder Michael Bailey presented the Madison City School Board with a proposal setting forth three alternatives for using ESSER or other funds to purchase HEPA filters. The proposal indicates the worst-case three-year cost to implement and sustain portable HEPA filtration. You can view it here:

Madison City Schools Portable HEPA Filters - Public
Download PDF • 308KB

What Should Madison City Parents Expect By Now?

Schools can significantly reduce airborne illness by increasing the number of times that air is changed out in classrooms. These air changes can come from bringing outdoor air in through ventilation, or can be effectively achieved by using portable HEPA filters. Madison City parents have a right to expect this from schools, because the benefits of these engineering controls are well-documented:

  • Schools in Georgia that improved both ventilation and filtration: 48% fewer Covid cases than their peers that did not (CDC)

  • 5 air changes/hour with HEPA filters: 65% reduction in exposure (CDC)

  • 5 air changes/hour with HEPA filters: >72% less exposure (CERN et al)

  • 6 air changes/hour with HEPA filters: 82.5% less exposure (Goethe University)

  • 6 air changes/hour with mechanical ventilation: 82.5% less transmission (Hume Foundation)

The 6 air changes per hour seen in two studies above coincide with the "ideal" air change rate specified in recommendations dating back to 2020 by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. More recently, the Chair of the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force recommended 6 air changes per hour as a reasonable minimum that schools should target. These recommendations are well-supported by the studies above (and more). Given that these recommendations are proven to be effective, Madison residents would be within their rights to ask: Why not for our kids?

Parents have a right to expect Madison City Schools to take a keen interest in the above facts and recommendations—and then use residents' ESSER dollars to adopt these recommended air quality improvements. This would have an enduring impact on airborne transmission, which would in turn reduce absenteeism, missed education, and staffing issues in the future. Superintendent Nichols has stated a 4% absenteeism rate, but it is unclear when we will begin counting Covid absences in this figure, and until we do, our eyes are effectively closed to the extent of the problem and we are only pretending to have achieved normalcy. But we have the recourse to grab that normalcy, if Madison City Schools will take initiative in this matter.

Incorporating HEPA filters into the budget is an opportunity for Madison City Schools to responsibly spend the Covid funding residents gave them, to directly address the Covid problem. Moreover, these portable HEPA filters can improve the education environment for students and teachers with asthma or allergies. Air quality improvements also pose an opportunity to improve student cognitive performance, test scores, and grades, with a similar performance impact to cutting class size by one third.

What are Madison City Schools Doing Instead?

Instead of the proven and recommended engineering controls cited above, Madison City Schools have continued installing and using unproven technologies that coincide with none of the recommendations from CDC, ASHRAE, the EPA, or any other authoritative body—namely, ionization and foggers.

Although ionization appears to be getting installed in several schools (as planned), the actual word "ionization" has not been used to describe the ongoing HVAC work. After our co-founders learned of this through inquiring about school air quality, we furnished the following information to Madison City Schools:

  • Boeing, in their labs in neighboring Huntsville, concluded that ionization should be rejected for airplanes, stating that ionization "has not shown significant disinfection effectiveness..." [pdf]

  • The Chair of the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force supported an open letter written by a task force member, appealing to school administrators to abandon ionization on the grounds of its unproven efficacy and well-founded concerns about safety. [web]

  • The Lancet COVID-19 commission indicated ionization and foggers are "generally considered less scientifically defensible due to their often unproven efficacies and due to their potential for degrading the quality of the air through the generation of harmful secondary pollutants." [pdf]

  • CDC says of ionization that there is an "absence of an established body of peer-reviewed evidence showing proven efficacy and safety under as-used conditions" [web - expand under point 8]

  • ASHRAE says of ionization "Convincing scientifically-rigorous, peer-reviewed studies do not currently exist on these emerging technologies...." [web]

What happens to the developing lung tissue of children who breathe ionized air 6 hours a day for 12 years of their young lives? What are the effects of the byproducts that might be produced when ions enter into occupied spaces and alter indoor air chemistry? What chemicals are being put in the air with foggers, what residues remain when students are present, and can ionization interact with those chemicals to produce additional harmful substances? The students of Madison have not consented to become human test subjects to empirically determine the harms of technologies that experts deem to be of unproven safety and efficacy.

In contrast, HEPA filters pose no such risks, and were selected by NASA (again right here at Marshall Space Flight Center) to clean the air in the International Space Station. Madison City Schools' administrators need to take a lesson from the brilliant experts right in our backyard at NASA and Boeing who have collectively avoided ionization in favor of HEPA filtration.

Calls to Action

The problem set before schools in the pandemic was to subtract bad things from the air, and certainly not to add them. Therefore,

1. We call upon Madison City Schools to abandon both ionization and foggers on the basis that they do not coincide with any authoritative recommendations, and their efficacy and even safety are called into question by a wide range of credible and authoritative experts.

And finally, nobody would expect a scientist at CDC to report in for their first day of work and begin huffing SARS-CoV-2 samples all day, getting infected and sick every few weeks or months; Madison kids and teachers shouldn't be expected to do this, either. Therefore,

2. We call upon Madison City Schools to allocate dollars to one of the alternatives from our August 25th proposal (above) as a line item in the school budget, and implement portable HEPA filtration in the 2022-2023 school year.

We can't "learn to live" with Covid without remembering to learn. Madison City Schools: use the money that the taxpayers of Madison gave you to buy at least three solid years of better attendance, less disruption, and better school performance.

If you are a Madison City Schools parent, please take time to voice your support by contacting the administration:

It is helpful for us to know about your advocacy, so please carbon copy us, at:

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