Denver Schools Use COVID Funds To Install Air Quality Sensors

Denver Schools are using a portion of their COVID relief funds to install air quality monitoring sensors into school buildings.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Denver schools

When the federal government began issuing relief dollars to schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund following pandemic school closures, much of that was urged to be used on updating infrastructure, policy, and procedures that would protect school and staff from the COVID virus. Most school buildings across the nation our old and outdated. And with cash-strapped budgets, the opportunity to take hefty chunks to update ventilation was near impossible. Now with COVID relief funds left to be used up before they disappear, many schools are taking the opportunity to update air quality, such as in Denver schools, that are using this cash to install innovative sensors that will monitor campus air quality. 

Being installed over the course of summer break, each and every Denver public school will now be equipped with air quality sensors, in an effort to let the district better monitor and improve the air quality inside buildings that students and staff breath in every school day. It will be a $1.5 million endeavor that places around 800 sensors in school buildings.

While it may seem like a hefty chunk of cash, it’s barely a dent in the Denver school’s whopping $205 million the district received in federal stimulus money. The rest of the funds were allocated to various efforts to make up for learning loss suffered during school closures, social and emotional training (SEL),  and mental health needs. Funds have to be used up by the end of the 2023-2024 school year, or else the money is lost.

Improving air quality benefits everyone, but in a school setting where children are sitting attentively learning all day long, healthy air flow is imperative to boost students’ success. To start, children breathe more air in than adults, so risk factors from air pollutants are higher for students, especially at young ages when immune systems are still in development. Understanding this, Denver schools decided to go farther than simply installing new ventilation systems, by monitoring each school’s air quality to identify areas for improvement.

Denver school officials are hopeful that these new sensors will prove to be a lucrative way to combat issues with outdated ventilation systems that have long been thought to be detrimental to immunocompromised students, and those with allergies and asthma. Chalkbeat reported that some other Colorado school districts are using COVID relief funds to purchase air cleaning systems. However, many scientists have debunked these efforts, saying they don’t work. 

According to another report from Chalkbeat, excerpts agree that alternatives like air monitoring systems are a much better way to spend money in efforts to improve air quality. “You can’t monitor what you don’t measure,” asserted Mark Hernandez, a civil engineering professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. To this, he added that Denver schools will now be equipped with the tools to pinpoint where issues are the most extreme, and next avert more funds to fix ventilation only where it’s needed. 

Denver schools

This idea is gaining traction across school districts other than Denver schools. Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Atlanta have all installed similar air quality monitoring systems. The hope is that it will allow districts to better allocate budgets to revamp infrastructure and HVAC systems in a more lucrative manner. And above all, it’s bettering school environments, one breath at a time.