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Hundreds of virus-killing air filters not installed as Stockton schools prepare to start semester

The COVID-killing UVC air filters were partly the subject of a grand jury investigation into mismanagement at the district.

STOCKTON, Calif. — With nearly 40,000 students of Stockton's largest school district returning to campuses Friday, a delay in air filter installation could mean less clean air for thousands of young students and teachers.

According to district officials, hundreds of ultraviolet air filters intended for classrooms are not installed over a year after being purchased for $7.3 million.

In a 4-to-1 vote in July of 2021, the Stockton Unified School District's (SUSD) Board of Education approved the $7.3 million purchase of 1,891 UVC air filters from the company IAQ Distribution.

The filters, said to kill viruses in seconds such as the virus that causes COVID-19, were purchased before the 2021 school year as part of the district's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The filters clean the air in classrooms using ultraviolet light which the district said disinfects the air of airborne pathogens. The ultraviolet light emitted by the filters has also been cause for concern for some staff members.

Over a year after the filters were purchased, SUSD tells ABC10 that nearly $3.6 million worth of the virus-killing devices are still sitting in boxes, not installed.

"The Stockton Unified School District Board of Education felt compelled to provide protection to students, teachers and staff during the COVID Pandemic.   SUSD purchased 2,172 highly vetted air filtration units. 802 units have been installed," the district said in a statement to ABC10 Wednesday. "The district is currently preparing a bid to install the remaining 1,369 units because the company, IAQ, was not able to complete the install. The safety of students, teachers and staff remain a top priority."

The air filters, which cost SUSD $2,667 each, according to board records, were part of the subject of a grand jury investigation into mismanagement at the district, released in June.

According to the grand jury report, during a January school board meeting, a trustee endorsed a company to sell the UVC air filters to the school district.

That company was unable to meet the conditions required by the district, according to the grand jury.

"The practice of a trustee recommending a vendor is unusual and may be considered or perceived as a conflict of interest," the report said.

Soon after, the superintendent at the time, John Ramirez Jr. who has since resigned, ordered staffers to begin the request for proposals process for the project to find a supplier of UVC air filters for the district. 

The process, required by law, allows companies to bid to be chosen as the district's supplier. District staffers analyze the bids by assigning each of them a score and determining which ones would be best for the district.

In the end, five companies, including IAQ, went before the school board for approval to be the air filter vendor. IAQ, the company that was scored the lowest by Stockton Unified staff members, was the one that board members chose to become the district's supplier.

According to the grand jury report, the school district paid IAQ $2.9 million of the $7.3 million contract in August but, a search of the California Secretary of State's website by May showed that IAQ was no longer registered to conduct business in the state.

Now, SUSD said a new request for proposals must go out in order for the remaining 63% of filters to be installed by a different company.

District officials said the new request for proposals is in the process of being created. 

Stockton Unified School District's fall semester begins Friday, two days before Dr. Traci Miller takes the helm at the district as SUSD's second interim superintendent since the month of June.

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