Thursday, 2 December 2021
Department of Education and Skills
94. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if her Department or ETBs have engaged in the purchase or procurement with regard to air filtration systems for schools; if so, the terms and conditions in respect of the use of such systems; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [59668/21]
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 Expert Group in its report notes “very good advice is contained in the Department of Education’s Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools”
And that “It must be emphasized that ventilation should be delivered as part of a layered strategy of protective measures to control the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.”
The over-arching 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 classrooms are in use.
The Expert Group also note “considerusing a portable carbon dioxide (CO2) monitor to identify areas of the school with inadequate ventilation. The Departments guidance outlines CO2monitors 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 CO2monitors 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.
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.
The Expert Group also notes the potential use for air cleaners“consider using stand-alone high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter devices to further reduce airborne virus in poorly ventilated spaces”
The Departments Guidance is clear that where the recommended measures in the Practical Steps and poor ventilation continues to exist in a particular room/area, air cleaners may be considered as an additional measure in conjunction with other methods of ventilation that are available. This is line with Expert Group guidance which identifies that in areas with poor ventilation that structural interventions and measures to increase natural ventilation should be completed. Where such structural interventions or measures are not possible in the short term, that consideration should be given to using stand-alone HEPA filter devices in poorly ventilated spaces pending the completion of structural interventions.
There is no one solution that fits all scenarios, each application requires bespoke analysis and selection of the appropriate unit(s) matched to the specific room size and volume. If, following consultation with a supplier a school feels that its individual space may require specific technical specialist advice then the assistance of a Chartered Engineer or Registered Architect can be sought.
The requirement for air cleaners in schools will depend on advices provided to schools by their Architect/Engineer. As part of contingency planning, the Department has put arrangements in place (including at ETB level) for a small reserve of air cleaners to facilitate quick deployment to any primary or post-primary school which has an immediate need and has been unsuccessful in sourcing locally.
In conclusion my Departments approach on good ventilation in schools, as part of a layered strategy of protective measures to control the spread of the virus, is fully consistent with Public Health advice and the Expert Group recommendations on good practices, the use of portable CO2monitors and the targeted deployment of HEPA air filter devices where necessary for poorly ventilated areas.