When the Brownsville Independent School District returns to classes next week, air quality at the district’s 54 campuses will be far better than it was when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

One of the first things BISD did when the pandemic hit was to install medical-grade MERV 13 filters in the HVAC systems at all 54 district campuses, said Nellie Cantu, deputy superintendent for business and operations.

Now, with the start of school and fully in-person instruction days away, BISD is providing surgically clean air at campus nursing stations and main offices across the district.

Nurses received training Wednesday in operating the Jade Air Purification System portable units that have been installed at all schools. The units filter out air particles down to .0025 of a micron, company representative Gilbert Saenz said. He said COVID-19 virus particles measure .1 of a micron.

Each campus has a Jade air filter for the main office and one for the nurses’ station.

Meanwhile, every teacher, counselor and librarian has been given a COVID kit to respond to student needs and keep campuses safe, Cantu said, adding that all BISD nurses have been trained and can administer rapid COVID-19 tests that return results in 15 minutes.

“Our philosophy is all hands on deck … and our No. 1 goal is to keep students safe,” Cantu said.

She added that BISD has already begun the procurement process to upgrade HVAC systems across the district, concentrating first on systems that need it the most.

Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said some campuses are in dire need of HVAC upgrades.

“Because of ESSER funds what would have been a five-year plan or 10-year plan can be done right away,” Gutierrez said. “Now we can have an aggressive timeline.”

He added that as the district has gone through the pandemic, it has been careful not to rush into anything because leaders want to make sure they get things right the first time.

But he said the district would be looking right away at improving air quality and circulation in cafeterias and locker rooms, places where students congregate and where the virus could spread if not checked.

Eddie Garcia, president of the BISD Board of Trustees, said the air quality improvements are needed.

“This is the beginning of it. We’re not stopping here,” he said.

[email protected]