Air purifier delay prompts last-minute change for Lowell schools

Lowell, Easton schools delay hybrid plan due to lack of air purifiers

LOWELL, Mass. — A delay in the delivery of air purifiers for classrooms has prompted a last-minute switch to remote learning for the majority of students in Lowell, according to a Tuesday letter to parents from Lowell Public Schools.

The hybrid-learning plan initially called for 25% of students to return to in-person learning on Thursday, Sept. 17. Instead, nearly all students in grades 1 through 12 will start learning remotely, with the exception of certain special education programming, preschool and kindergarten classes.

The district wrote that it currently has 128 air purifiers available for use and that the vendor fell short of its pre-ordered commitment for the remainder.

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“Prior to making this decision, we exhausted all options - locally and nationally - for securing the air purifiers that we need as part of our protocol for exceeding health and safety guidelines necessary for reopening classrooms,” Lowell Superintendent Joel D. Boyd wrote in the school district’s letter to parents. “Ultimately, we made a commitment to you to place student and staff safety as our top priority, and we are holding firmly to this commitment.”

Two weeks earlier, about 150 teachers and parents protested at Lowell City Hall and called for a third-party safety inspection of the district’s school buildings. The protesters said they did not want to return to in-person learning until every classroom at least had an air purifier and screens on windows.

Lowell High School, built a century ago, has had well-documented issues with its heating system. In 2018, students missed three days of classes over a week after repeated natural gas leaks inside the building.

Easton Public Schools similarly postponed the start of in-person learning for students in grades 6 through 12 earlier this week due to a delay in getting air purifiers delivered for the middle and high school. The letter to parents said the manufacturer alerted them on Sept. 14 that a “worldwide supply chain issue" would delay the delivery until next week. Affected students will instead attend remotely from Sept 17, the first day of school, through Sept. 23.

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