Madison family encourages use of homemade air filtration units in classrooms, MMSD isn’t convinced

The district believes air quality in schools is at an acceptable level.
Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 6:57 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 11, 2022 at 7:19 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Improving air quality in classrooms. That’s one Madison family’s goal as the pandemic wears on. But it’s also been a pillar of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s COVID-19 response, and district officials are not convinced a homemade solution is the right one.

Trina and Chris McMahon are invested in the issue of air quality, not only in their careers as scientists and academics, but at home as well. They are parents with two kids enrolled in MMSD schools. When students returned to classes in-person last fall, the McMahons were happy with the district’s virus mitigation strategies. But a concern remained.

“We know these schools are old,” said Chris. “The HVAC systems are generally very old and not going to be able to do the kind of air exchange to take care of COVID. So we started wondering, ‘what can you do?’”

The McMahons learned about a DIY solution. Known as the Corsi-Rosenthal box, these homemade air filtration units only require three supplies: four MERV 13 air filters, a box fan, and duct tape. Costing less than $100 to create and lasting up to a year, the McMahons figured MMSD teachers could use them in classrooms. They made about a dozen and gave them to friends who taught in area schools.

“They used them all semester and they loved them,” Chris said. “The noise wasn’t a problem. It was good piece of mind having them in there.”

But because the units were not tested and approved by MMSD and the Board of Education, the McMahons say teachers were asked to remove the units from classrooms. They’ve been trying to get MMSD to approve them ever since, but the McMahons say the district has been slow to take them up on these devices.

“Time is a problemed here,” said Chris. “We’re in a peak with Omicron so we just want to get moving on this.”

The district, however, believes air quality in schools is at an acceptable level. In February 2021, a third-party contractor was hired to audit MMSD filtration systems. Five schools were examined, each representing “the varied type and age of air handling equipment common throughout MMSD facilities,” according to the audit. The contractor concluded that measures MMSD enacted “meet or exceed those of the other school districts reviewed.”

“We’re very comfortable with the quality of air within our school buildings,” said district spokesperson Tim LeMonds. “Now that doesn’t mean we’re not always looking for ways to improve our safety strategy.”

LeMonds explained the district’s approach to COVID-19 has been data driven and multi-layered.

“If there is data that can be provided to show us how this kind of safety mitigation strategy would benefit and make our schools safer we would most certainly be interested in taking a closer look at that data and that strategy is another layer,” LeMonds said. “But we haven’t seen that data. That’s simply what it comes down to.”

The McMahons say they planned to meet with the district at the end of January to discuss these filtration devices, but their appointment was canceled. The district says they plan to reschedule with the family.

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