By Christina Hager

LOWELL (CBS) – In Lowell, where the first day of school is set for Thursday, a shortage of air purifiers is forcing a last-minute change of plans. Instead of the lottery-driven hybrid plan that was in place, most students will log onto classes remotely.

Raelynn Mayberry’s daughter will be starting second grade from home. “You have parents preparing to go back to school for the 17th, and now they have to find alternative arrangements,” she said.

Lowell School Superintendent Dr. Joel Boyd announced the vendor supplying the air purifiers reported a delay due to problems with the supply chain. While some have already arrived, there are not enough for all classrooms. A photo provided by the teachers union shows boxes of BreatheSmart Fit50 machines from Alen Corporation. The company’s Texas-based company’s website said, “We’re very concerned about the twin challenges of COVID-19 and western state wildfires. We are doing everything we can to meet strong demand…delays may occur.”

Lowell teachers rallied on Wednesday for a safe start to the school year. (WBZ-TV)

United Teachers of Lowell President Paul Georges said the purifiers were ordered from Home Depot. On Saturday, a spokesperson from Alen said the company “is not included as part of the Massachusetts state contract where the City of Lowell’s Operational Services Division can buy from.” According to the statement, “Alen holds the safety of schools and the education of the bright leaders of tomorrow in the highest regard and would never leave such an important contract unfulfilled.”

Lowell Public Schools Chief Equity and Engagement Officer Latifah Phillips issued a statement Wednesday: “We are continuing to work on a solution for obtaining the remaining inventory of air purifiers, and we will provide families with an update on the status of in-person learning by the end of the week.”

“We were very concerned with the circulation of air having to do with the COVID virus,” said Georges. He said the union has been pushing for air quality inspections in schools. “This was just a case where the delivery of a product that had been promised did not get to where it was supposed to be,” he said

It’s a problem other towns are also facing. Easton just announced it’s now scaling back in-person learning due to a delay in air purifier deliveries. Wilmington also delayed having students go to school in-person for the same reason.

Jamie Krasnyansky’s 3-year-old daughter was supposed to start preschool. “Getting the air purifiers in there for them I think is … they’re trying to do what’s best for the kids,” she said.

Christina Hager

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