With Tulare County now officially in the red tier, Porterville Unified School District continues to take steps to make sure its campuses are as safe as possible when all students are able to return.

Among the steps PUSD is taking is purchasing 800 air filtration units to be placed across classrooms and other places across the district such as libraries and offices. The air filtration units will make sure PUSD meets Centers for Disease Control guidelines when it comes to making sure the air in rooms where students and staff are is as clean and safe as possible.

With Tulare County now in the red tier, 7th through 12th graders can now join K-6 graders and return to the classroom.

PUSD superintendent Nate Nelson said the air filtration units are just one step to assure families and staff campuses will be as safe as possible when students return. “We thought it was important,” said Nelson about the purchase of the air filtration units as a way to make campuses safer.

The air filtration units will be in place in time for when high schools and middle schools reopen, Nelson said. The district, which is on spring break, this week, is still looking at the week of March 29 for reopening to 7th through 12th graders.

“That would be ideal obviously,” said Nelson about reopening on March 29. But he added the district won't rush to reopen on March 29 and may wait to reopen later that week. “We want to make sure we do it safely,” Nelson said.

Nelson added 7th through 12th graders will participate in a hybrid schedule in which the day will be split into distance and in-person learning. And parents will still have the option to continue with just distance learning.

Nelson said the challenge of providing both in-person and distance learning for teachers will be difficult. “We can only pull a teacher in so many directions,” he said. He added additional staff will need to be hired when middle and high schools reopen.

The air filtration units cost $1,200 each and there will also be an annual cost of $200 to change the filters in the units. The purchase of the air filtration units is being funded by state and federal funds.

The district could also decide to purchase more air filtration units. “We have the option to add more,” Nelson said.

Along with purchasing the air filtration units the district has already taken steps to meet COVID-19 guidelines when it comes to changes it has made in its central air conditioning system. The filters will be able to capture bacteria, pollen, dust and virus particles as small as COVID-19. “They can capture particles that are that small,” Nelson said.

The high-efficiency particular air filters meet the United States Department of Energy standard of removing 99.7 percent of particles.

Nelson said the air filters are easy to install and are “completely stand alone. Fortunately they're quick to deploy.”

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