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Air quality in classrooms a top priority, says Quebec education minister


Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville said Friday that air quality in schools is becoming his top priority. 

The minister said that "there is no file on which I have put more time and energy."

He invited journalists to a news briefing specifically on ventilation, during which he revealed that one per cent of classrooms in Quebec were still problematic.

According to his most recent data, 724 classrooms have a weekly average CO2 concentration that exceeds 1,500 parts per million (ppm), while 72 classrooms exceed 2,000 ppm.

Drainville acknowledged that the ideal target is 1,000 ppm. He also acknowledged that the situation is likely to get worse this winter, when schools usually close their windows.

The Minister also predicted that the situation would get worse this winter, considering that schools usually close their windows.

"When the cold weather comes, these numbers may not be as good. Let's be honest. Is it going to be one per cent again? Probably not," he said.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of ventilation in schools had gained a lot of momentum. Drainville's predecessor, Jean-François Roberge, was accused of downplaying the problem.

"I appreciate the new minister's change of tone," Liberal education critic Marwah Rizqy tweeted Friday. Finally it's not a "helium-filled issue."

Without going so far as to criticize the former minister, Drainville said he had quickly asked his officials: "What are you doing? What are we doing?"

He sees the installation of CO2 readers in all 68,548 classrooms in the province to measure air quality in real-time as a positive step.


"We've installed CO2 readers everywhere ... We've installed air exchangers everywhere we've been asked to install them. The situation is not ideal, the situation is not resolved, but it is relatively under control," the education minister said.

"To talk about ventilation is also to talk about the fact that our school fleet is aging and we have to continue to make major investments."

In the meantime, he advises schools that are facing a "wave of infections" to open their windows this winter, despite the cold, taking into account the "comfort of the student."

"Three years after the beginning of this saga ... that we are still in the process … of opening the windows for a third winter, it is distressing," said Mélanie Hubert, president of the Fédération autonome de l'enseignement (FAE).

Hubert recalled in an interview that the data provided by the minister are averages, and that CO2 concentrations in classrooms often reach "1700, 2000 ppm."

However, she says she appreciates the seriousness of Drainville.

Drainville seemed much less jovial than Mr. Roberge may have seemed in recent years. I felt that Mr. Drainville was not trying to tell us that everything was fine," she said.

"He seemed to be aware that the problem was important and that it had not yet been resolved. It's still an interesting change of tone." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Dec. 2, 2022. Top Stories

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