SAN ANGELO, Texas — The 2020 school year might have ended in May, but Grape Creek Independent School District superintendent Angie Smetana spent every day of the summer planning ahead for this very week.
"I immediately began researching everything I could. I looked at what Denmark was doing, what Thailand and Taiwan were doing, and what Japanese schools were doing. I started going from country to country and figuring out what worked and what didn't," Smetana said.
After extensive research, Smetana decided to purchase HEPA filters and Ultraviolet (UV) lights for every classroom in the district. HEPA filters are able to capture particles the size of the virus that causes COVID-19 and removes those from the air. Although they won't completely diminish one's chances of getting the virus, multiple studies have proved their effectiveness, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does recommend HEPA filters be placed in classrooms if possible.
"CDC has shown that air particles from a cough or a sneeze can stay in the air for up to three hours. Even though they're not sure if that's one of the main modes of transmission, we're not going to take a chance," Smetana said.
When students leave the classroom for a class change or another activity, UV lights are activated, which can kill bacteria in spaces up to 365 square feet in just 15 minutes.
In addition, all of the desks in Grape Creek classrooms are placed six feet apart and have three-sided shields.
"As long as they’re behind that shield, it’s a safeguard for everybody involved. We’re doing triple and quadruple of everything to cover everything. We're going way above and beyond because it’s important to get our babies back and have them face to face," Smetana said.
Smetana said the desk shields, HEPA filters, and UV lights did make a dent in the district's finances, but no amount of money is too much for her students and staff.
"Desk shield, $2.99, HEPA filter, $169.00, and a kid being able to come to school the coronavirus, where he or she can focus on learning...is priceless. If we can eliminate any possibility of infection, we’re going to do it," she said.