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Clean Indoor Air in Schools Helps Students Stay Healthy and Learn Better

Last updated: 04-11-2021

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Clean Indoor Air in Schools Helps Students Stay Healthy and Learn Better

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) is sharing this press release from the Healthy Schools Network to bring you the latest news quickly.

If you'd like to learn more about your state's policies for people with asthma, food allergies, anaphylaxis, and related allergic diseases in U.S. elementary, middle, and high schools, see our State Honor Roll of Asthma and Allergy Policies for Schools.

(Albany, NY and Washington, DC) – 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, toxic disinfecting products, no infection prevention and 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.” Dr. Pamela L. Pugh, DrPH, Vice President, Michigan State Board of Education. “When we finally get to the other side of COVID-19, we will assess the lives lost, the lingering health impacts, but we will also examine the toll that this disease has taken on our children, especially our Black, Latino, and Indigenous children.  Unfortunately, it looks like it will be at this late hour that policy makers will be forced to admit that a more urgent and overt push for adequate and equitable measures to mitigate risk exposures due to long standing inadequate building maintenance and indoor air quality conditions should have been a primary response to this deadly and life altering disease as well as in preparation for the next airborne diseases to come.” 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.”   Karen Williams Weaver, PhD, former Mayor of Flint, MI and Interim Executive Director African American Mayors Association “Opening up safely includes having tailored interventions for traditionally marginalized communities. We know that communities of color are more likely to live in mutigenerational households which means higher exposure rates for older communities when children return to school. We also know that Black communities are getting vaccinated at lower rates. There is understandable vaccine hesitancy in Black communities who have dealt with a racist, exploitative health care system for far too long. But, as community leaders we have to have these tough discussions on the importance of still getting vaccinated so that the virus doesn’t continue to spread, mutate and develop more variants in our communities if we are the last to get vaccinated.” 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.” Read the full statements of support here, also from: 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.


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