Build Back Better Schools: Clean Air in Every School
Stronger Agency Collaborations Needed to Address
COVID and Climate Impacts on Nation's Schools
Schools urgently need to rebuild better after years of institutional and facility neglect. For two decades, healthy schools advocates have stressed the need for clean air in schools to children's health and ability to learn. Now, with reopenings after months of missed learning, poor air and water quality, toxic disinfecting products, lack of infection control plans, and nonworking ventilation are steep challenges to staying open. In fact, too many schools are still not able to ensure clean air during this 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 chronic indoor and outdoor air, water, sanitation, and related infrastructure problems."
Responding to the shocking lack of coordinated messaging on reopening schools during the pandemic, advocates are calling on the Biden Administration to help schools and children by creating a first-ever President's Task Force to address the environmental quality and readiness of schools. Federal agency 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, Healthy Schools Network is releasing the report of its January 2021 Summit on COVID, CLIMATE, CHILDREN AND SCHOOLS. The Summit illustrated the inter-connected challenges and expertises needed to build back better local schools, from reparing failed buildings, ready to stay open, resilient to super-storms, and participating in climate mitigation.
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."
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. We encourage the Department of Education, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA, and others to work together to align strategies and 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 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 in the American Rescue Plan (ARP). An investment in clean air in 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, Dean, School of Health Sciences and Practice and the Institute of Public Health, 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. 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."
Read all the statements of support here, also from: Montgomery County Council of PTAs; National Association of School Nurses; Collaborative on Health and the Environment;
Events and Activites include: webinar on Eco-Healthy Child Care from the Children's Environmental Health Network; panel discussion on Net Zero Schools from Perkins Eastman /CMTA (registration required); new reports from the US Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools on how to use new federal funds to address ventilation and other concerns; the "K-12 Road Map for Education" and more from Perkins & Will; HealthyIndoors live stream interview with Healthy Schools Network and the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professional;
Claire Barnett, executive director