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Public School Ventilation Act

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This is a great idea coming out of New Mexico and we need more of it, not only at our schools but in workplaces.

Even though New Mexico requires public schools to upgrade their heating and air conditioning systems to clean indoor air well enough to remove coronavirus and other harms, people can’t just look up whether their local school district actually meets those standards.

A legislative proposal — with backing from unions representing New Mexico teachers and sheet metal workers — seeks to change that.

COVID is highlighting the need for action on ventilation systems, said Rep. Christine Chandler. She and Rep. Joy Garratt, a former educator, are sponsoring House Bill 30, which would create the Public School Ventilation Act.

“Having good airflow and good systems in place will affect staff health and student health in a way that’s very important,” Chandler said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 95% of all children in the U.S. have been infected at least once.

States have been slow to act on ventilation, she said, even though the Environmental Protection Agency has been raising it as an issue and not getting much traction, either.

“We don’t have the staff or capacity at PED to go out there and go verify every single building in doing that,” said Antonio Ortiz, finance and operations director of the New Mexico Public Education Department in an interview last year.

The federal government has allocated millions of dollars in pandemic relief to pay for filters and upgrades. The American Rescue Plan Act recognizes that ventilation systems need to be upgraded, Chandler said, so the bill is timely in terms of public awareness of the need to address this issue.

Improving ventilation would reduce rates of influenza and asthma, she said, which will increase student attendance and participation. It should also reduce levels of carbon monoxide in schools, which will help everyone, students, staff and teachers alike, she said.

The other thing this does is to create the kind of necessary legal incentives to rebuild our infrastructure in a carbon-neutral way. If you are forced to refit your schools so that they are actually healthy, that’s a lot of jobs for union construction trades and that’s a great opportunity to do it all at once. You see this sort of thing happening in Rhode Island, among other states. This is a slightly different deal, but still works toward the kind of positive result we need–clean, healthy environments built by union labor. You think unions aren’t on board with green energy? Please, they don’t care. They just want the jobs. Provide the jobs, make them union, they will get on board. That doesn’t mean they are going to vote for Democrats per se, though many of them will. The point is not to create a new lefty trade union movement. It’s to rebuild labor-environmental alliances at a time when we need these to push a program for human survival on a warming planet.

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