Thursday, 16 December 2021
Department of Education and Skills
418. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she has a contingency plan for the return of schools in January 2022 in the event of continued high Covid-19 rates amongst those under 18 years of age; if so, the details of such plans; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [62915/21]
The approach to supporting schools to operate safely during Covid-19 has been to follow and implement public health advice. The infection prevention and control measures in place in schools have worked very effectively to prevent and control Covid-19 in schools. The Department will continue to work closely with public health officials and the education stakeholders in respect of the safe operation of schools during Covid-19.
As a contingency measure, the Department has already provided a suite of guidance materials, agreed with the education partners, to enable schools to facilitate the continuity of learning should a school be required to close due to public health advice. These are available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool. This documentation has been complemented by Circular 0074/2020 (Communication/Teaching & Learning Platform) which requires all schools to have in place appropriate contingency measures to ensure that they are prepared to continue to support teaching and learning in the event of a partial or full closure of schools arising from Public Health advice.
420. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated percentage of the overall number of classrooms nationwide her Department will provide with air filtration units in January 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [62917/21]
421. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the estimated percentage of the overall number of classrooms in County Kerry her Department will provide with air filtration units by January 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [62918/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 419 to 421, inclusive, together.
To provide additional support in the context of Covid-19 the payment of a minor works grant totalling €45m for primary schools and special schools, plus a once-off Covid-19 minor worksfunding of €17m for post-primary schools, was recently announced.
Given that each school setting is different, individual schools are best placed to decide how best to use this funding to address their particular needs.
Managing ventilation is one of a suite of public health measures in place to keep our schools safe.
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 including in relation to the role of air cleaners in helping to deal with poorly ventilated areas. The practical steps and stepwise approach set out in the guidance are sufficient to ensure good ventilation practices in school while at the same time ensuring an appropriate balance between ventilation and comfort. www.gov.ie/en/publication/ad236-guidance-on-ventilation-in-schools/
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.
HEPA air cleaning devices are not a substitute for good ventilation but can be considered as an additional measure in conjunction with other methods of ventilation that are available pending the completion of structural interventions to address a poorly ventilated area. This is line with the Expert Group recommendations.
It is important to note that Air cleaners do not remove Carbon dioxide (CO2).The best way to reduce CO2levels in a room is to dilute it with fresh air.
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 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 Minor Works Grant announced can be used to address any small-scale ventilation improvement. In the event the school's engineer/ architect recommends a HEPA air cleaner to address a poorly ventilated area, relevant technical guidance can be found here: www.gov.ie/en/publication/c6578-room-air-cleaner-guidance-for-schools/
Should a school require larger scale ventilation work you may also apply for emergency works grant assistance in the normal way.