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Ventilation guidance for chapter leaders

As we enter the winter months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we face new challenges keeping public schools safe. Experts recommend strong ventilation — by increasing the circulation of outdoor air into buildings — to lower the concentration of an airborne virus such as the one that causes COVID-19. But keeping all windows wide open may be less feasible when the outside temperature drops. The union has been working with the DOE to ensure that it creates a set of protocols and practices to keep staff and students safe during the winter.

School ventilation systems

Chapter leaders were asked to have open conversations with their principals and custodial engineers about their school's ventilation system and building temperature. In many cases, custodial staff will arrive early during the winter to preheat the school building before the arrival of staff and students. They are supposed to maintain temperatures in the building at 68º F throughout the day if the outside temperature falls below 55º F. If the school is too cold, staff should moderate window openings and the chapter leader should reach out to the principal or custodial staff directly to ensure that the heating system is working.

The DOE is in the process of shipping and installing MERV-13 filters to schools with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that can use these filters. Schools do not need MERV-13 filters to be safe. If these filters are not appropriate for your school's HVAC system, your custodial staff should be operating the system with minimal or no recirculation of air, which can cause the building to be colder than usual.

See our FAQ and the winter ventilation plan »

If you have any questions or concerns about building temperature or your school's ventilation system, speak to your chapter leader, or call the UFT at 212-331-6311 and ask to speak to a safety and health liaison from your borough or a representative in our Safety and Health Department at union headquarters.

Guidance for members

  • Bring in fresh air: How wide or how many windows should be open will differ with each room design and the comfort level of the occupants. In general, if your classroom or office has operable windows, keep the windows and doors open. All windows do not necessarily have to be wide open, especially when it is raining, snowing or extremely cold outside. Windows should be open as wide as is comfortable for the occupants. Also, dress in layers and bring additional warm clothes for yourself. Be sure to also remind students (and the parents of younger students) about the importance of dressing warmly for school.
  • Encourage outdoor play: Students should be allowed to play outside and participate in outdoor activities whenever possible, unless it’s snowing, there is ice on the ground or the wind-chill factor is below 0º F. Schools should not prohibit outdoor play based on the temperature alone. On very cold days, school staff should make sure students cover up their skin, wear warm clothing and use several layers to stay warm.
  • Continue to take precautions: No one precaution is enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing, mask-wearing, frequent hand washing and surface cleaning continue to be crucial safety measures. All these measures work together and build upon each other. But wearing a mask is most effective because you can directly reduce the number of viral particles in the air at the source.