Ventilation as protection against corona: large classes, small windows

The GEW teachers’ union criticizes the fact that many schools in Bremen only have tilting windows. The city wants to act – but does not know where this is necessary.

Males on the window need less air than those behind it Photo: Chromorange/imago

The specifications are clear: When school starts in Bremen on Wednesday, classrooms should be "intensively ventilated with wide-open windows during every (!) lesson break," according to the Indoor Air Hygiene Commission at the Federal Environment Agency; after short 5-minute breaks, also during lessons. Fresh air is currently the means of choice as protection against aerosols, packed with nasty viruses.

The trade union for education and science (GEW) criticizes that exactly this protection cannot be granted at schools in Bremen: At present, many windows can only be opened when tilted. "Unfortunately, the vacations were not used by those responsible to create sufficient technical changes," the criticism states. According to Elke Suhr, spokeswoman for the GEW executive board, in order to create drafts, classroom doors would have to be open in many places – and emergency exits would often have to be provided in the corridors themselves.

The basic problem is well known in the education authority. "The criticism was brought to us some time ago," says spokeswoman Stephanie Dehne. The authority has therefore drawn up a ventilation concept: At least two window sashes should be able to be opened in every room.

But so far, no one knows how many classrooms are currently unable to do this. Before the summer vacations, on July 10, the school authorities commissioned Immobilien Bremen (IB) to find out more. But: "I can’t say anything about that yet," says IB spokesman Peter Schulz. For its part, the company had instructed the school janitors to check the windows.

Slogans such as "Head empty? – Air here!" have been posted in large numbers at schools.

Orders have also been placed with tradesmen. However, there are no figures on this. "The evaluation comes only at a later time," says Schulz. The public Bremen property service provider thus does not know at which point of the implementation it stands straight.

Fresh air important even in non-corona times

The issue could have come up earlier – after all, fresh air also improves students* ability to concentrate. In 2011, the health authority launched the "Care4Air" project, and slogans such as "Head empty? Air here!" were put up on billboards in schools.

However, the campaign focused primarily on education, not on rebuilding. For Suhr, the fact that the shortage is now attracting attention is a classic Corona effect: "Like under a burning glass, it shows what’s going wrong. It’s just like the fact that soap is only now coming into the schools."

Schulz doesn’t let that stand. "Considerations for better ventilation are a standard part of renovations for IB," he says. Numbers are missing here, too, however. In any case, tilt-up windows are probably not solely due to a renovation backlog – they are also supposed to provide safety. "In elementary schools, you can’t be distracted for a second when the windows are open," Suhr admits. Hamburg just showed why: there, a nine-year-old fell four meters from an open school window.

So even if Bremen knew where windows had to be converted, that wouldn’t solve everything. Nevertheless, Suhr believes it would be wrong to rely primarily on mandatory masks in school corridors as an alternative: "According to occupational safety law, personal protective equipment is always the last thing that should be used," she says.

If a technical solution alone is not enough, there must be an organizational way out – for example, by making lessons last only 30 minutes so that safe ventilation can be provided earlier. And above all, says Suhr: "Smaller learning groups. They’ll have fewer lessons, but they’ll be more intensive." Of course, this is at odds with the goal of the Senator for Education, which is expressly "regular operation.

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