CO2 monitors in schools: ‘It will be hard to gauge the benefits until winter arrives’

Principals at two primary schools say ventilation will be key to keeping pupils safe

Naos Connaughton, principal of Lecarrow CNS in Co Roscommon: ‘Even before Covid I believed it was good for kids to have fresh air.’ Photograph: Brian Farrell

Naos Connaughton, principal of Lecarrow CNS in Co Roscommon: ‘Even before Covid I believed it was good for kids to have fresh air.’ Photograph: Brian Farrell

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The principal of Lecarrow Community National School in Co Roscommon, Naos Connaughton, has no complaints about the number of CO2 monitors he has received.

The school has 17 pupils. “We got three in the post,” said the principal , who has put a monitor in each of the two classrooms and the third in the learning support room.

Meanwhile, Terence Reynolds, principal of Scoil Naomh Bríd primary school in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, which has 199 pupils and 11 classrooms, got only five monitors but will not be looking for more.

He put monitors in his two biggest classes – junior and senior infants, with 28 and 26 children respectively. Monitors have been installed in prefabs, too, while the fifth has been installed in the staffroom.

However, the monitors are “not changing our behaviour”, he said. Both principals said they have been keeping doors and windows open as much as possible, while children are encouraged outside whenever possible.

However, the two principals believe that they will have no choice but to turn the heating up to the full to be able to keep students in class when all of the windowns are left open.

“The green schools policy will be literally out the window, if you pardon the pun,” said Reynolds.

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“We will be burning oil and keeping windows open – not very good for the environment,” said Connaughton. But both believe that there is no option for now.

Worrying readings

Neither principal has noticed any worrying readings on the monitor so far, but, with temperatures still in the high teens, keeping the windows and doors open is no hardship.

Connaughton says Lecarrow is lucky since it is an old building with 18ft high ceilings that help ventilation.

“When I put my hands up I am only halfway to the ceiling and I am six-foot-two,” he pointed out. He’s curious to see how the monitors will work when temperatures drop but said, “you know yourself when it gets stuffy.”

Having such small pupil numbers, high ceilings and nine windows in one classroom will help with ventilation, he believes.

“And our classrooms are on the ground floor so there is no safety concern with opening windows, which you might have in some bigger schools where there are classes upstairs,” he added.

Like his Ballyconnell counterpart, Connaughton says getting the children outdoors will play a key role in protecting them. “Even before Covid I believed it was good for kids to have fresh air,” said the Roscommon senior hurler as he prepared to join his class on a 3½-kilometre lunchtime cycle in nearby St John’s Wood on Wednesday. Music and art classes are regularly conducted outdoors in Lecarrow.

No panic

At Scoil Naomh Bríd in Ballyconnell, where class sizes range from 17 to 28, there is no sense of panic about a shortage of CO2 monitors.

While he worries about the environmental and financial implications of high heating bills as a result of opening doors and windows, Reynolds said they coped fairly well last winter. “It will be hard to gauge the benefits of the monitors until winter arrives,” he said.

With four Covid cases in the school this year, he is more concerned about the “disruption” caused by the policy of requiring children who are close contacts to have two negative test results before they can return to school.

Because the second test cannot be done for 10 days, he says the reality is that pupils are out for up to 12 or 13 days as they await results. “To be honest, I think it’s crazy,” he said. With 28 pupils impacted so far this term, he says that they should be allowed come back to the classroom when they get a first negative result after a few days.

“Children who are identified as close contacts, even when they have no symptoms, have to sit at home for 12 days,” he said.

“That has to change because it is disruptive for schools, it is causing logistical problems for parents but most serious of all it is disruptive to the education of these children and they have missed so much already.”