Thursday, 23 September 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
I am raising this question today because many parents have been in contact with me because they want to know more about the air quality monitors, the carbon dioxide monitors. They want to know whether they are working and effective. A concern people have is that, as we move into the winter months and as windows are closed and classrooms have to be kept warmer, the monitors will not be effective. Could the Minister update the House on their effectiveness?
Managing ventilation is just one of a suite of public health measures in place to keep our schools safe. Updated guidance on practical steps for the deployment of good ventilation practices in schools was provided at the end of May, following the work of an expert group that carefully considered the role of ventilation in managing Covid-19. A copy of the guidance is published on the website www.gov.ie. The overarching approach in the guidance is for schools to have windows open as fully as possible when classrooms are not in use and partially open when they are. The guidance outlines that carbon dioxide monitors can play a part in providing a useful general indication that areas or rooms may not be adequately ventilated. They can enable occupants to become familiar with the impacts of activities, outdoor weather and window openings on levels of good ventilation.
My Department procured portable monitors. They are currently being distributed to schools, with allocations of between two and 20 at primary school level and between 20 and 35 at post-primary school level, depending on school size, at an estimated overall cost of €4 million. The monitors are portable, simple to use and will give a digital reading.
Deliveries of carbon dioxide monitors to schools commenced in the third week of August. In total, the process involves over 35,000 monitors being distributed to primary and post-primary schools. Some 25,000 carbon dioxide monitors have been distributed to schools, which has facilitated the provision of monitors to each school. Ninety-six percent of primary schools, including all special schools, have received their full allocation of carbon dioxide monitors. Ten monitors, at a minimum, have been provided to each school at post-primary level, with the balance of each allocation expected to be distributed in October. An issue arose with Lennox over the final balance of carbon dioxide monitors but provision has been made for them to arrive in schools in October. Schools have the autonomy to purchase carbon dioxide monitors locally if they wish and deem it necessary.
It is important that all classrooms have these monitors in place. It is regrettable that some have not been able to avail of them to date. I acknowledge, however, the work done on providing these important pieces of equipment for the vast majority of classrooms in a relatively short period. It is important that the Department try, where possible, to monitor the data, including data on where outbreaks of Covid occur, to determine whether there is a correlation between classrooms that are not particularly well ventilated and outbreaks. The Department should try to learn from the data and intervene and take corrective measures where required. I hope that the target for providing 100% of the monitors, as outlined by the Minister, will be met because it is really important that no child in any classroom be without the benefit of a monitor.
I thank the Deputy. There is international demand for carbon dioxide monitors. We ordered them more than four months ago. We are moving into the fifth month now. Ninety-six percent of our primary schools are in possession of their allocation of carbon dioxide monitors. All of our special schools have received their allocation, and all of our post-primary schools have a minimum of ten monitors. Complementing the guidance already available to schools — the excellent guidance on the operation of ventilation in our schools — it was suggested, through the expert group under Professor John Wenger, that the monitors be portable. The idea was that they could spot-check and be moved from room to room. We accepted that and therefore we ordered them centrally. Where there is a small shortfall, schools do have the autonomy to purchase locally.
Where issues arise regarding ventilation in a school, whether they concern the need for improved vent or window work or otherwise, funding is available for that school through the minor works scheme. Alternatively, emergency funding applications can be made. If there are bigger issues, there is absolutely no question but that the expertise of the Department, be it in engineering or another area, can be availed of.
If any additional measures are required to be put in place and have been done in other cases, we will continue to do that on a case-by-case basis also. There is no question of our sourcing and resourcing this area within our schools.