Pandemic Has Unprecedented Impact on Schools and on Future of 55 Million Children
The Nation Will Need Healthier Schools in a Post-Pandemic Future
Air and Water Quality, Safer Cleaning and Disinfecting Products Critical Needs
Tuesday is the 18th annual National Healthy Schools Day (NHSD). With the COVID-19 crisis impacting over 55 million children and closing 124,000 schools, and affecting another 10 million children in childcare, as well as every family in the country, and with most of the nation's schools closed, parents, teachers, school support staff, and public health and environment advocates across the country are focusing this week on the need for healthier environments for children when they do return to school.
Fresh Air, Clean Water, Safer Disinfectants Are Critical. Schools have quickly stepped up to provide various forms of distance learning, while themselves learning on the way, and many schools are also preparing and delivering meals to hungry children. But with the virus lingering in the background, facilities re-opening for children must have ample fresh air and clean water.
Since schools have facility staff, and since it is easier to clean and repair an empty building than one filled with children, advocates are urging schools to use this down time to clean and fix facilities. Advocates are also urging Congress to restore and expand critical grant funds to EPA to extend its training and education programs on how to clean and maintain healthy facilities for children, especially since the coronavirus is expected to stay in the background.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for school district leaders as they work tirelessly to ensure all students are healthy and can continue learning during school closures; support staff and communities through new uncertainties;
"Even in the time of coronavirus, we must remember that when schools are in session, children are required to attend school in buildings that all too often threaten their health. From mold in classrooms to toxic chemicals in the building to pesticides on athletic fields, schools can present hazards to children's health. We must change the paradigm and make schools that protect the health of children our most precious community resource." - Jerome Paulson, MD, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics and of Environmental & Occupational Health George Washington University..
Supported by the national Coalition for Healthier Schools, NHSD activities and materials are focused on-line, with web-based resources, social media messaging and calls for educators and building managers to use this time of unexpected facility closures to address issues such as cleaning and disinfecting with safer products, maintaining and repairing buildings and grounds, reducing lead in paint and drinking water, improving ventilation and A/C, lighting, and addressing dampness and molds. NHSD Resources include national peer-reviewed guidance on how to talk to children, EPA guidance on school indoor air and pest-proofing, and new fact sheets on safer disinfectants effective against the virus from several national NGOs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already disrupted the learning of nearly every school-age child in the US, as well as many around the world. For thousands of communities and parents, the seriousness of the threat became all-too-real when schools and childcare facilities began to close. When these US facilities reopen for the 65 million children and 8 million adults who work in them every day, this will be the strongest signal that normalcy is returning. We all need to ask: will they return to healthier schools?
"We applaud school custodial staff across the nation who are on the front lines of protecting the health of students and other school personnel every day of the year. To support them, schools should use this closure time to develop a Green Cleaning program that relies on the use of certified low-toxicity cleaning chemicals and safer surface disinfectants. Fortunately, there are many safer disinfectants on EPA's List N of products that are effective against the COVID-19 virus, containing ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide or ethyl alcohol that kill germs without causing asthma." - Alicia Culver, executive director, Responsible Purchasing Network
"While schools are shuttered across the nation, we must remain mindful that these unoccupied classrooms must be safe when students and education workers return to them. We must continue improve the air quality of our learning environments and keep them free from mold and toxics like lead." - Christine Appah, Senior Staff Attorney, Environmental Justice Program, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
"The coronavirus pandemic has shut schools across the country, and families are struggling to adjust to an extended period of social isolation. This is a perfect time millions of parents to connect with local community partners, businesses, elected officials, and other leaders, so we can support and invest in schools for the sake of our children's health." - Molly Rauch, Public Health Policy Director, Moms Clean Air Force.
"With so many schools closed due to the current coronavirus health crisis, opportunities exist to perform proactive maintenance to ensure that pests are excluded from our children's school buildings and grounds, thus significantly reducing (or eliminating)
"At the very least, pests can be an annoying distraction in a classroom. At their worst, they can destroy property, contaminate food, bite or sting people, spread disease, and worsen health issues such as asthma." - Michelle Niedermeier, community integrated pest management and environmental health program coordinator for the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management Program.
"With the current global epidemic, it does make sense to be very thorough to keep the learning environment of our children safe in schools and deep cleaning to reduce pathogens and germs is part of the plan. Most important, children should never be given chemicals or disinfectant wipes -- registered as pesticides with the EPA no less -- to clean up after themselves, because children are more vulnerable than adults." - Daniela Kunz, Founder and President of Parents for Students Safety (Tennessee)
"Among the many preventive steps that need to be taken to protect ourselves from COVID-19, seeking out safer disinfectants and sanitizers is critical. We need to avoid the use of toxic chemicals in many disinfectants and sanitizers because they elevate the risk factors associated with the coronavirus—
"Now more than ever it is important to learn proper cleaning techniques and how to select and use disinfectants safely," said Tracy Gregoire, Healthy Children Project Coordinator for the Learning Disabilities Association of America. "We know that certain chemicals can harm brain health and are linked to other health effects, including harmful chemicals in cleaning products."
"We are thrilled to have helped schools, students and communities remain connected through experiential learning while promoting healthy lifestyles through physical activity during this difficult time. More than ever, we are reminded of the power of innovative sustainability action to create a healthier future," said Robin Buchanan, Founder & Executive Director of Project Green Schools.
"Given the current public health crisis, which has created unprecedented challenges for teachers, students, and their parents, WE ACT for Environmental Justice is developing a series of free online learning modules based on our successful Environmental Health and Justice Leading Training program," said Taylor Morton, Environmental Health and Education Manager at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. "These will serve as a valuable educational tool to better understand the inequities that have contributed to the health challenges faced by low-income communities and communities of color."
"The staff of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program is social distancing, but school pests are not. We've made it a priority to provide reminders for school administrators and building maintenance professionals that unoccupied schools also provide perfect opportunities for the extra scouting, cleaning and exclusion work needed to reduce pest pressure." - Debra Marvin, New York State Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell
"Keeping our schools, students, and community healthy is our number one priority, especially for this year's National Healthy Schools Day. We all want to be back together in the classroom as soon as we can. Until then, Green Schools National Network is working with its partners to support their efforts to provide the best virtual and at-home learning in this uncertain time." - Jennifer Seydel, Executive Director, Green Schools National Network.
"The National Association of School Nurses supports and commends the celebration of National Healthy Schools Day 2020. School nurses recognize that healthy and green indoor school environments have an important role in the health and academic success of students. Knowing that reopening schools after the COVID-19 pandemic requires evidence-based guidance, the important work of Healthy Schools Network will contribute to healthy school environments."
A partial listing of events and activities can be found here: