Build Back Better: Clean Air in Every School
Stronger Agency Collaborations Needed to Address COVID and Climate Impacts on Nation’s Schools
(Albany, NY) – This year’s National Healthy Schools Day comes at a critical juncture: the nation is working to recover and stabilize from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, reopen all schools, and address the growing crisis caused by climate impacts – impacts that hit the most disadvantaged communities and their schools the hardest.
Schools urgently need to rebuild better after years of institutional and facility neglect. For two decades, healthy schools advocates have stressed the importance of clean indoor school environments to children’s health and ability to learn. Now, with schools reopening after a year of missed learning for too many children, poor air and water quality, misuse of toxic disinfecting products, no infection control plans, and aged ventilating systems are all challenges to staying fully open. In fact, too many schools are ill-equipped to provide clean air during an airborne pandemic. These problems are both critical challenges and enormous opportunities to Build Back Better.
“Thanks to the Biden Administration and the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), two-year emergency funding is available to schools to improve Indoor Air and address other environmental health hazards,” said Claire Barnett of the New York-based national Healthy Schools Network. “One- hundred million dollars is also available to US EPA to assist states, and poverty communities and schools with their chronic indoor and outdoor air, water, sanitation, and related infrastructure problems.”
Responding to a shocking lack of coordinated messaging on reopening schools revealed during the pandemic, healthy schools advocates are calling on the Biden Administration to help schools and children by creating a first-ever Interagency Task Force to address the environmental quality and readiness of schools. Federal priorities, strategies, and resources must work to ensure that all school and child care facilities, especially those in the poorest communities, are braced for the next disaster.
In support of National Healthy Schools Day, Healthy Schools Network is today releasing the report of its January national Healthy Schools Summit on COVID, CLIMATE, CHILDREN AND SCHOOLS. The Summit illustrated the inter-connected challenges and expertise needed to build back better schools prepared to stay open in a pandemic and to help schools become more resilient and help them mitigate climate.
Governor Christine T. Whitman, Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute’s K-12 Climate Initiative and a Summit keynoter said: “We have a unique opportunity to help our children, our environment and build back better by recognizing the opportunity our educational system offers us. From the actual school structures themselves to the lessons in and out of the classroom, this report lays out a path forward that can benefit everyone in a community.”
National Education Association
“Clean air in every public school in this country is a must—it’s a learning issue, a health issue, and an equity issue. We must all do everything we can to make it happen now.”
Georges Benjamin, MD, Executive Director American Public Health Association
“National Healthy Schools Day this year takes on added significance as many children head back to their physical classrooms after extended time away due to the pandemic. The health and wellness of our youth has never been more important than it is today, and an increased focus on clean air, clean water, and
a healthy operating setting in those schools that have been dormant for some time will be essential to ensuring a safe learning environment within our children’s schools.”
Carolyn Sarno Goldthwaite, Senior Director, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships
“Every student from every background should have access to healthy and energy-efficient schools. This past year has magnified the need for it,” said Carolyn Sarno Goldthwaite, NEEP’s Senior Director of Advanced Efficiency Solutions. “We must work together to unify our visions, share resources, and work towards achieving common goals. Collaboration is critical, and more important than ever. At the federal level, we encourage the Department of Education, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA, and others to work together to align their resources”.
Bruce Lesley, President, First Focus on Children
“The measures required to combat COVID-19 have only confirmed what we already knew: our nation’s schools desperately need an infrastructure upgrade. Schools around the country must completely renovate their air filtration systems. But we should use this opportunity to also prepare schools to handle climate emergencies — such as floods, violent storms and extreme temperatures — and to invest in school infrastructure in the poorest and most remote communities.”
Kenneth Mendez, President and CEO, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
“Poor indoor air quality is a significant concern for those with asthma and allergies and increases the risks of severe asthma attacks and allergic reactions. Nearly 1 in 13 children of school-age has asthma and it is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness…. AAFA is grateful to the Biden Administration for the $122.8 billion in K-12 school emergency funding included in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Schools must address exposures to allergens like dust mites, pests, and molds; poor ventilation and HVAC systems; and aging buildings. Investment in clean air in our schools is an
investment in children’s health, and it must be prioritized.”
Robert W. Amler, MD, MBA, FAAP, co-founder of the Children’s Environmental Health Center, and Dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice, and Institute of Public Health at New York Medical College
“Students’ and teachers’ airborne exposure to SARS-CoV2 is affected by ventilation factors in the classroom air space, and not only social distances. Improved filtration and fresh-air exchange in school buildings will enhance protection of all occupants as schools reopen.”
Harold Dixon, President, North Carolina Parent Teacher Association
“We must be HEROES for our children including a healthy environment in the schools where they spent so much time. We need to support funding so that schools may update their building creating an ideal learning environment.”
Dr. Erika Eitland, Director of the Human Experience (Hx) Lab, Perkins & Will
“This National Healthy Schools Day is celebrated with a clear sense of purpose. At no point in time has it been clearer that our school buildings influence the quality of education students receive, the foundational start to a healthy and flourishing life, and a clear anchor for our communities globally. Perkins & Will is committing research and design rigor towards better air quality, daylighting, acoustics, material selection and more in our schools.”
Jeff Vincent, PhD, Director, Center for Cities + Schools, University of California, Berkeley “For far too long, we’ve ignored indoor air quality in schools across America. COVID19 forces us to focus on righting this wrong – we must make sure every child, teacher, and staff member in our public schools has fresh, healthy air to breathe while they learn and work.”
Alicia Culver, Executive Director, Responsible Purchasing Network
“Certified green cleaners and asthma-safe disinfectants should be on every district’s back-to-school list because they can protect students, teachers and custodial workers, who are on the front line of keeping our educations facilities healthy and safe.”
Laura Stewart, VP of Advocacy, Montgomery County Council of PTAs
“National Healthy Schools Day is the perfect way to highlight this year’s Montgomery County Council of PTA’s environmental health advocacy. Montgomery County’s construction budget has been underfunded for years, causing a $750 million dollar backlog in asset replacements, including roofs, HVAC systems, bathrooms, and other major maintenance projects….”
Laurie G. Combe, President, National Association of School Nurses
“Clean air is essential for student health and learning….”
Hannah Donart, MPH, Program Manager, Collaborative on Health and the Environment
“The COVID-19 pandemic presents both environmental health challenges and opportunities that directly impact the health of children, teachers, and staff in schools. Lack of investment in updated HVACs, water filters and lead-free fixtures and plumbing, and safer cleaning and disinfecting products and practices in aging school buildings has been compounded by this public health crisis and left many children and school communities more vulnerable….”
Elisabeth Krautscheid, Managing Director, Collaborative for High Performance Schools “The pandemic has created challenges around every corner when it comes to the design and construction of high-performance schools. Even more so with the maintenance of existing schools…..”
Tish Tablan, Program Director, Generation 180 Solar for All Schools
“Every child deserves to have a safe, clean ride to school. However, nearly 25 million students in the U.S are breathing in harmful exhaust each school day while riding on a dirty diesel bus. …. “
And from: the Maryland Children’s Environmental Health Coalition; GASP (PA); Parents for Student Safety (TN); Learning Disabilities Association of America – Healthy Children’s Project; physician Elizabeth Goldberg, MD, Providence, RI; and more.
For dates, registration links, and other details on all events and activities, see the Activity List below.
Children’s Environmental Health Network
The Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) will premiere a pre-recorded webinar from CEHN, Eco-Healthy Child Care, and Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units on the CEHN Facebook Page. This webinar is from our COVID-19 child care series on improving ventilation in early care and education facilities. Attendees will learn the latest science-based recommendations and strategies for keeping children and staff safe. The presentation will be moderated by Lauren Zajac, MD, MPH, FAAP, a pediatrician and faculty at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. The presentation will be presented by Marian L. Heyman, MT(ASCP), MPH the coordinator at Indoor Environmental Quality Unit and Epidemiologist/Industrial Hygienist in the Environmental & Occupational Health Assessment Program, Connecticut Department of Public Health.
Perkins Eastman / CMTA
In celebration of National Healthy Schools Day, which this year is focusing around the theme of “Clean Air in Every School,” DC Public Schools and their partners, Perkins Eastman and CMTA, will host a panel discussion on the importance of prioritizing wellness, and air quality as a component of that, in school design. West Elementary School, which is slated to open this summer, is on track to become the first Net Zero Energy and WELL Building certified school in the world. In many ways, this school can be the first of a new generation of schools, in the vanguard of post-pandemic, healthy, high-performance school design.
Register for the panel discussion through the Activity list below.
Maryland Children’s Environmental Health Coalition
Will celebrate the 2021 National Healthy Schools Day with Advocacy! Children’s developing bodies cannot process or tolerate chemicals as adults do, and that includes chemicals currently in use for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting schools during the COVID-19 Pandemic National Healthy Schools Day will be used to highlight and advance the work of PTAs, parents, and advocates in Maryland in addressing Green Cleaning, Indoor Air Quality and Water Quality in Maryland schools – with an emphasis on reopening our schools safely during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Perkins & Will
Plans to post its “K-12 Roadmap for Education” and other informational materials on reopening and rebuilding schools on Instagram and LinkedIn throughout the week.
Karen W. Weaver, former Mayor of Flint, Michigan
Mayor Weaver will host a two-hour morning talk radio show on 910-AM Superstation, featuring Healthy Schools Network Claire Barnett and Pamela Pugh, PhD, the Vice President of the state board of education, Wednesday, April 7.
Collaborative for Health and the Environment (CHE)
CHE is posting its Toolkits on reducing hazards in schools and child care facilities to social media during the week.
Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)
CHPS will release new information on indoor air quality in schools.
US Green Building Council – Center for Green Schools
The Center and partners will release a new guide on how to use new federal funds to repair schools and host a webcast.
National Association of School Nurses (NASN)
NASN is posting about Indoor Air in Schools to affiliates, members, and allies nationwide, reaching into tens of thousands of school communities.