Written answers

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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121. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if her attention has been drawn to the fact that parents are expressing concerns in relation to the mental health impact that the wearing of masks will have on children and the future impact it will have on society (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [59416/21]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The Department has always been guided by Public Health as to the mitigation measures needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in our schools.  The aim of all of the Covid-19 infection prevention and control measures that have been put in place for schools is to support schools to operate safely and prevent the introduction of Covid-19 and also the onward of transmission of Covid-19 among the school community. These measures protect pupils, their parents and school staff and are very effective when adhered to.

NPHET has recommended and the Government has approved a measure introducing the wearing of face masks by children aged nine years and older in a number of settings, including for children in 3rd class and above in primary schools.  HSPC interim Guidance on the use of face coverings in childcare and educational setting has been published.

The Department has provided guidance for schools, including information on those categories of children who are exempt on medical grounds from wearing face masks. The measure is being introduced on a temporary basis and is subject to review in mid-February 2022. Schools will be best placed to identify those children whose complex needs are such that the wearing of face covering may not be possible for them, and to discuss this with parents as required. In such circumstances a school may not require medical certification to provide an exemption to the wearing of face coverings.

I am aware that this is a challenging time for pupils, teachers, other school staff and parents, and a strong focus should be kept on wellbeing and self-care during this time. The National Educational Psychological Service of the Department (NEPS) is leading on supporting the wellbeing of schools communities. The Department’s response is aligned with the HSE guidance and based on the five key principles of promoting a sense of safety, calm, connectedness, self- and community-efficacy and hope. 

My Department will continue to work in partnership with the Department of Health to ensure that the wellbeing needs of all members of the school community are met and we will continue be guided by the Department of Health and the HSE on public health measures.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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122. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will address the heating issue currently facing schools by providing air filtration for schools given windows are being left open; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [59512/21]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The Department’s ventilation guidance for schools is very clear and practical on the steps to be taken by all schools to manage ventilation levels.

Managing ventilation is just one of a suite of public health measures in place to keep our schools safe. Updated guidance for schools 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 Gov.ie website. The updated guidance for schools is also fully in line with the most recent guidance on non-healthcare building ventilation during COVID-19, published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre last Thursday November 18th.

The Expert Group note in its own report notes “very good advice is contained in the Department of Education s Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools”

The over-arching approach for schools should be to have windows open as fully as possible when classrooms are not in use (e.g. during break-times or lunch-times and also at the end of each school day) and partially open when classrooms are in use.  It is worth noting that windows do not need to be open as wide in windy/colder weather in order to achieve the same level of airflow into the classroom. This will assist in managing comfort levels in classrooms during periods of colder weather.

Deployment of the above measures can be supplemented and enhanced by the use of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) monitors. These monitors can provide a useful general indication that areas/  rooms may not be adequately ventilated and can enable occupants to become familiar with  the impact of activities, outdoor weather and window openings on levels of good ventilation within a room.

The guidance outlines that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) monitors can play a part in providing a useful general indication that areas/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. The provision of portable CO2 monitors provides schools with the flexibility to focus their use to those rooms where most beneficial to inform strategies for optimising ventilation in the school.

In excess of 35,400 monitors were delivered to schools nationwide at a cost of circa €4 million.

The Department considers the above practical steps and stepwise approach are sufficient to ensure good ventilation practices in school while at the same time ensuring an appropriate balance between ventilation and comfort.

A dedicated team has been established in the Department to support schools that may have concerns about ventilation. Officers are also available to contact schools where required, walking through the steps the schools should take to deploy good ventilation practices etc.  Where it is not possible for a school to access the expertise of an engineer or architect, and where necessary, a technical assessment to assist the school can be facilitated through the Department.

Schools that identify inadequate ventilation in a room can utilise their minor work grant (for minor improvements) or apply for emergency works grant assistance to address ventilation enhancements on a permanent basis. 


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