This is the first time real planning has gone into the long-standing promise of successive governments to install air conditioning in schools, Education Minister Athena Michaelidou said on Friday.

An unusually hot June has prompted calls to speed up the plan to roll out air conditioning units across all schools at a cost of €45 million.

Some 200 units are expected to be installed by August.  The goal is to install ACs in 650 schools with an average of 20 units per school. This would mean 15,000 ACs in total. The plan is for this to be accomplished in three years.

For now, the ministry is starting with 50 schools, meaning 10 in each of the five districts. The criteria for their selection have already been set.

Schools were shut down early, at 10.45am on Friday, with temperatures expected to go as high as 45C inland.  Exams went ahead and finished by 11am before the weather warning took effect.

“The primary goal is to protect the children, but also the staff at the schools,” said Michaelidou. She said the early closing was specifically for Friday but that if another unusual spike was forecast, the ministry was flexible.

A large percentage of parents chose not to bring their children to school at all on Friday, the minister said, which was a choice they were given by the ministry.

On the lapsed plan for air conditioning, Michaelidou said: “We know that for many years the issue was not discussed or the issue was closed because it was decided for many reasons that air conditioners would not be installed in schools. This government has realised from the first moment the necessity of having air conditioners in order to have better teaching and learning conditions for our teachers, but mainly for the children,” she said.

The minister said that the current government was working on the issue from the outset but it was not a simple matter as building safety had to be taken into account, and surveys done. “That is what we did and now we are in a position, a few months after we took this initiative, to start the installation.”

Michaelidou said the plan was for three years but if conditions allowed, it would be accomplished sooner. “It is understood that we want air conditioners in the schools as soon as possible,” she added. Schools in higher mountain areas would be excluded for the moment.

The Pancyprian Parents Association later on Friday said they want the air conditioning installed sooner than the planned three years,

President of the association Renos Koumis said they fully agreed, unanimously, with the decision to close the schools early on Friday.

“It was with our consent, all parents, all districts,” he said.

“What we are asking is for the three years to be shorter than that announced by the minister, to give priority to schools where air conditioners must be immediately installed and the rest to follow. It is a shame in the year 2024 to have to close the schools because of the weather. It’s unacceptable” he added.

“Our position was and remains that air conditioning must be installed in schools so that we don’t have to close them.”