Dutch to tackle school Covid ventilation issues with CO2 detectors
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is allocating an extra 17 million euros so that every primary and secondary school classroom can purchase a carbon dioxide detector. Schools that have already bought CO2 monitors will be reimbursed for the costs.
In total, about 115,000 classrooms need a meter, says a spokesperson. They are advised to purchase it through specialist suppliers, because the monitoring system must meet specific requirements, like the use of an infrared sensor. It is considered "urgent advice," to buy the monitors, and is not mandatory according to the spokeswoman. "But the schools themselves have asked for this, so we assume they will follow this advice."
"The monitors indicate that ventilation must be provided, but it is precisely this ventilation that is a problem for schools," said a spokesperson for the AVS. "If we want our students and teachers to work in a healthy environment, then action needs to be taken quickly."
"CO2 detectors provide information, but are not a solution," said a spokeswoman, said a spokesperson for the CNV Education trade union. "Because then you have to open a window."
There will also be a helpline for schools that need advice on how to get their ventilation in order and an "emergency service" that "helps with ventilation in the short term," according to the ministry. If schools are unable to get their air quality up to standard, they can call the helpline, the spokesperson says. If there are still no improvements after that, someone from the emergency department can come by to assist.
The ministry has made agreements about ventilation with the associations representing primary and secondary education, and also the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG). Schools can also receive a subsidy from the municipality for improving ventilation. The Cabinet previously allocated 360 million euros for this.
Good ventilation in schools has been a problem since the start of the coronavirus crisis. The Cabinet introduced a subsidy in October 2020, but the ventilation in about half of the schools still is not in order, the General Association of School Leaders (AVS) reported last month.
Education Minister Dennis Wiersma acknowledges that it "just needs to get better quickly." He would also have preferred that the problem had been addressed a year and a half ago. Wiersma hopes that solutions will come soon, especially because of the contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus. But according to him, the coronavirus crisis is not the only reason to improve ventilation. "Even without Omicron, children have the right to clean air."
The education councils and the VNG say they are happy with the approach, but believe that more is needed. According to the organizations, outdated school buildings should be improved. "This requires a significant financial boost and a joint approach," said Henk Hagoort of the VO Raad, the council representing secondary schools.
The subsidy for ventilation systems is intended to make adjustments to the school building, a spokesperson for CNV Education explains. However, such interventions take a lot of time and there is no time now that the pandemic is raging. According to the union, more attention should be paid to alternative solutions. "Think of air filtering, or air purification by means of UV lamps. You cannot get a subsidy for such new techniques under the current scheme."
Reporting by ANP.