Beijing has taken a giant step forward towards equipping public schools with air purification machines, thereby providing students a breath of fresh air during one of the city’s many smog attacks for the first time ever.
Years of bureaucratic red tape had left students with no policy on how best to protect themselves during the numerous bouts of severe air pollution that have beset the city.
Last December after having conducted a year-long study, the Beijing Municipal Education Commission said it wasn’t convinced air purifiers should be allowed in its schools. The commission said air purifiers couldn’t guarantee the safety of Beijing students because their use would mean “classrooms would need to be sealed, leading to no air circulation and thus the easy transmission of germs.”
As a result, air purifiers had been effectively banned from most Beijing classrooms.
Hu Qingming, a Dongcheng District resident who had contributed towards the purchase of an $770 air purifying machine for his daughter’s classroom, said the air filter was rejected by the school last year.
“We had no choice but to give up the idea. Finally, we sold the purifier,” said Hu.
A Hangzhou parent of a 5th grader had a similar story that ended with a far-reaching implication. “We went to the appliance store with the intention of buying an air purifier for the classroom. We contacted the class leader, after which the teacher contacted the school principal. But after all that, the teacher said there was no precedent for it,” said the parent.
The announcement doesn’t provide specifics on how much money will be allocated to each school, or as to what kind of air purification machines will be purchased.
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Even though the cost of equipping city classrooms with air purification systems won’t come cheap, some Beijing schools have already footed the bill.
Beijing private schools that have splurged on air purification systems include the Lycee International Francais Charles de Gaulle de Pekin, the Harrow International School Beijing, the Canadian International School of Beijing, and the International Montessori School of Beijing.
Two private schools, Dulwich College Beijing and the International School of Beijing, have even installed specialized domes with pressurized, built-in filtration systems where students can safely engage in physical activities.
The decision to provide the cash supply for air purification machines in Beijing classrooms comes a year after the commission decided to make air purification systems a standard feature in newly-built schools.
“Schools must guarantee students’ safety and get permission from their parents before installing,” head of the Beijing Municipal Education Commission Xian Lianping said at the time.
But even with the commission’s decision to allow air purifiers in Beijing classrooms, there is currently no official standard of what defines clean air in Chinese schools.
Despite being thoroughly educated on the risks of breathing unfiltered air during severe smog attacks, breathing clean air still isn’t a priority for some Beiing residents. Air filtration machines are often stigmatized as “luxury goods” by some people, while others can be seen outside without air filter masks during one of the city’s multiple red alerts.
Current emergency protocols for air pollution mean that classes are cancelled during a red alert, while outdoor school activities are cancelled during an orange alert.
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