DENVILLE, NJ – One week after starting the 2020-2021 school year under a hybrid learning plan, Morris Knolls High School in Denville and Morris Hills High School in Rockaway moved temporarily to an all-virtual schedule to allow for the replacement of certain air filters used in their respective HVAC systems. According to a Sept. 18 letter from the Morris Hills Regional District, which governs both schools, Mon., Sept. 21, will start the final week of the two-week hybrid pause, with both schools resuming their hybrid-learning schedules on Tue., Sept. 29.
In a Sept. 11 letter, the district alerted families of its discovery that MERV 2 air filters had been installed in the HVAC systems in both schools rather than MERV 8 filters. MERV is an acronym for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and is a system that evaluates an air filter’s efficiency in catching particles of various sizes. Ranging from 1-16, “the higher the MERV rating the better the filter is at trapping specific types of particles,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A portion of the district’s Sept. 11 letter posted on each school’s respective websites during the first week of the all-virtual schedule stated:
“Both Morris Hills and Morris Knolls High Schools will move to an all-virtual schedule from Monday, September 14, 2020 to Friday, September 25, 2020 while professionals review the HVAC systems and conduct airflow assessments, and we install the MERV 8 filters. At the conclusion of this two-week period, we will re-assess health and safety conditions and provide the community with an update…”
The update came in the district’s Sept. 18 letter:
“We are pleased to share with you that during this past week, the district was successful in securing MERV 8 filters and have replaced most MERV 2 filters in both Morris Hills High School and Morris Knolls High School with these new filters and expect to complete this task by the end of next week. This timeline will allow us to reopen on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, as planned.”
The district did not respond to TAPinto Denville’s inquiry as to whether professionals would “review the HVAC systems and conduct airflow assessments,” as stated in the district’s Sept. 11 letter. Specifically, TAPinto Denville is awaiting answers to the following questions posed to the district superintendent, James Jencarelli, on Sept. 16:
1. Will any air quality testing be conducted at both schools before Fri., Sept. 25?
2. If testing will be conducted during the all-virtual period, will the test results be certified, and if so, by whom?
3. Does the district have any intentions of retrofitting the HVAC systems to allow for MERVE 13 air filters, and if so, what is the anticipated timeline for starting and completing that project?
Professional associations like the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers or ASHRAE recommend the use of air filters rated at least MERV 13 if the HVAC system allows because MERV 13 or higher levels are considered to be the most effective at capturing airborne viruses like the novel coronavirus, causes COVID-19. The New Jersey Department of Education incorporated ASHRAE’s COVID-19 Building Readiness/Reopening Guidance in its “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education.” According to Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order No. 175, “all school districts that reopen for full or part-time in-person instruction must meet the…health and safety standards, delineated in the Department of Education’s ‘Checklist for Re-Opening of School 2020-2021’ and detailed in ‘The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education’.”
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