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Renewed calls for HEPA filters in classrooms as low temperatures are reported in schools

Current health and safety regulations do not allow for temperatures to drop below 16 degrees in classrooms.

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THERE HAVE BEEN renewed calls for the Government to directly purchase HEPA filters for schools, as reports of low temperatures in classrooms are reported today.

Pictures on social media posted in recent days show that temperatures have dropped in classrooms across the country, with some photos showing temperatures dropping to as low as six degrees.

It comes as Met Éireann issued a Status Yellow snow and ice warning yesterday that was in place until 11am this morning. Highest temperatures today were forecast to be between four and eight degrees.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy has said that teachers have reported temperatures as low as six degrees in their classrooms in recent days, as windows must remain open to ensure ventilation requirements are met.

“I’ve been inundated with messages from teachers and SNAs who are facing temperatures in classrooms between 6 and 13 degrees,” said Murphy.

“How is it possible to teach or learn in that environment?

“The government needs to do now what it should have done a year ago – directly purchase HEPA filters and install them in schools, provide FFP2 masks for all staff and students, and restore contact tracing.”

A grassroots group of primary teachers, Glór, has also been recording low temperatures in classrooms around the country.

Currently, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Regulations 2007 set out that the minimum temperature in schools should not drop below 16 degrees. Within these regulations, any concerns must be sent to the management of the school, who must ensure that minimum temperatures are met.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said that ventilation is a single action in a suite of public health measures to avoid transmission of Covid-19, but that windows do not need to be open fully in colder weather.

“It should be noted 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,” said the spokesperson.

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“This will assist in achieving the appropriate balance between ventilation and comfort levels during periods of colder weather.

Opening windows fully for a short period at the end of each school day avoids the need to do the same again before the start of classes in the morning and further assists in managing comfort levels in the classroom in the mornings (partially opened windows should enable good ventilation to be achieved when classrooms are occupied).

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for the INTO said that any school which is having issues with ventilation should contact the building section of the Department of Education.

The union also said that they had called for additional funding to supplement school heating budgets as well as addressing air quality within classrooms.

 ”INTO has raised the issue of additional funding to supplement school heating budgets and to address classroom air quality with the Department of Education at recent meetings,” said a spokesperson for the INTO.

The Department of Education has said that there are once-off minor work grants issued in December 2021, totalling €45 million for primary schools and special schools, and minor works funding totalling €17 million for post-primary schools.

“Schools that identify inadequate ventilation in a room can utilise their minor work grant or apply for emergency works grant assistance to address ventilation enhancements where the minor work grant does not cover the full cost of the works required,” said a spokesperson for the Department.

About the author:

Michelle Hennessy & Tadgh McNally

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