The AEU has been advocating over the past few months for the state government to address the issue of ensuring adequate ventilation in schools. The department recently announced its plan, which consists of three parts.
Part one is the opportunity for all government school campuses to access $25,000 shade sail grants, with the aim of increasing the amount of space outside that can be used for teaching and other activities.
Part two is the provision of air purifiers. DET has secured an order through Samsung for 51,000 air purifiers, 37,000 of which will go to government schools. Due to the supply issue, the air purifiers will arrive in stages, with the last expected delivery to take place at the end of December.
The first tranche of 2,000 purifiers have been rolled out to schools. We have not been provided with the names of these schools, but we do know that 522 units went to nine schools (seven government, two non-government) across the Wyndham area.
We have been informed that the prioritisation of the air purifier allocations was based on advice provided by the Department of Health, and included prioritising schools in local government areas with the highest prevalence of COVID-19; specialist schools, in recognition of their vulnerable cohort; and schools that are combined primary and secondary settings, based on epidemiological advice that there has been higher on-site transmission in these schools.
Our advice is to continue to apply a risk management approach to the ventilation hazard and implement controls currently available.
Part three is the implementation of a Ventilation Assessment Program in 100 sample schools chosen because they provide a representative sample of building fabric across the system in both metro and regional schools – in terms of the age and type of buildings.
This assessment program will include infrastructure assessments, where more than 20,000 rooms across the 100 schools will each be assessed on their characteristics, such as the number of windows; whether windows can open; and the availability of split systems, vents and fans. This will provide DET with a better understanding of the ventilation characteristics that feature in schools throughout the state. It also includes the use of 3,500 CO2 monitors in the sample schools, which will send data back to a central database.
These monitors will remain in place as students return to onsite learning. The final part of the assessment program will be technical assessments, which will occur in 10 of the sample schools, whereby occupational hygienists and mechanical engineers will look at airflow patterns and air changes. The evidence collected from the Ventilation Assessment Program will contribute to the prioritisation of the rollout of air purifiers and provide guidance to schools about what further controls may need to be implemented.
These are all important steps towards a comprehensive improvement in ventilation for Victoria’s schools now and into the future. However, the rollout of air purifiers means there will be schools who do not receive their allocation for some time.
Our advice is to continue to apply a risk management approach to the ventilation hazard and implement controls currently available, such as utilising outdoor learning spaces where practicable, ensuring HVAC systems are not set to re-circulate air, and maximising outdoor airflow in indoor areas by having doors and windows open.