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Coalition for Healthier Schools

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Position Statement and Policy Recommendations

Each school day, fifty-five million children and seven million adults — over 90% women and children—totaling 20% of the total U.S. population and 99% of all children—spend their days inside school buildings. Unfortunately, too many of our nation’s 130,000 public and private schools are “unhealthy” buildings that can harm their health and hinder learning. They do not need to be. Healthy buildings can create lasting benefits, sometimes at little or no extra cost. Unhealthy and or dilapidated school buildings are well-documented to erode children’s health, thinking, learning, and impact behavior and expensive to remediate.

Over the last twenty years, a body of robust published literature shows that improving school indoor environmental quality improves attendance, academic performance, and staff productivity. Factors related to children’s health and learning include facilities that are clean, dry, quiet, have good indoor air, control dusts and particulates, and maintain comfortable indoor temperatures. Note: conventional “green” schools (LEED certified) may require all those factors; they do not require restrictions on school pesticide use or require the use of certified green cleaning products.


About children – not just little adults

Children are more vulnerable than adults to environmental hazards because they are smaller, have developing organs, and breathe more air per pound of body weight. They cannot identify hazards. Adverse exposures and injuries during childhood may have a lifetime impact. CDC has recently reported that 40% of all school-age children have one or more chronic health issues, such as asthma or diabetes. See:


About schools – not just little offices

Many school environmental factors can affect the health of children and employees. Too many schools are sited near industrial plants or toxic waste sites; some are on abandoned landfills; thousands are near hazardous facilities. Schools are more densely occupied than offices, used more hours per week and often not well maintained. Some schools are severely overcrowded, which compromises ventilation systems, acoustics, food service, recess, and sanitation and lavatories. Children also spend extra hours in vehicles or buses when their schools are beyond safe walking and biking distances. Today, schools are neither climate resilient nor COVID resilient, despite the clear risks to keeping facilities open, and risks of infections to occupants.

The U.S. EPA estimates that at least half of all schools have problems with indoor air quality and, in recent years EPA and CDC have reported fewer local public health agencies able to assist schools, and EPA itself unable to respond with technical assistance. Children and staff are all affected by:

  • polluted indoor and outdoor air
  • toxic chemical and pesticide uses; chemical spills
  • mold infestations
  • asbestos and radon
  • lead in paint and drinking water
  • inadequate chemical management
  • poor siting, design, engineering
  • hazardous materials purchased and stored onsite
  • heavy metals and other toxics, such as mercury, CCA, PCBs


Results of unhealthy schools

  • ALL children are at risk of extra health and learning problems due solelyto the conditions of their schools and the absence of public health services for children at risk or with exposures:
  • increased child and staff health problems and absenteeism
  • more asthma, allergies, headaches, fatigue, nausea, rashes, and chronic illnesses
  • Sick Building Syndrome/Building Related Illness
  • more medication uses by children and staff
  • learning and behavior difficulties that worsen
  • greater liability for school districts
  • reduced academic achievement, and
  • reduced revenues due to poor attendance.

Coalition Position Statement

Our nation is committed to raising academic performance for all children and to improving the environment of every neighborhood. Thus, we have a moral obligation to protect all children and to accommodate children and personnel who already have impairments. To promote child and adult health, improve education, and create healthier communities, all schools should:

  • adopt high performance school design and siting standards
  • promote and sustain high quality indoor air and ventilation
  • use safer cleaning and maintenance products
  • use non-toxic products for instruction
  • use least-toxic integrated pest control and weed control
  • provide quality lighting, including more natural light
  • provide good acoustics and noise control
  • select durable, easy-to-clean flooring
  • offer wholesome food and exercise opportunities
  • provide safe spaces for outdoor activities
  • build or retrofit facilities for energy and other resource efficiencies
  • remediate lead, CCA, PCBs, mold infestations; clean out old chemicals, and,
  • establish public health services for children with school/childcare-based environmental exposures.

A powerful array of organizations supports new policies and actions to ensure all schools are environmentally safe and healthy, including parents, unions, educators, health and environment groups, and advocates for the millions of students in special education programs.

Federal Policy

  • Fund and staff federal agencies to develop a coordinated sustained federal strategy to address healthy school environments for all children(CDC, EPA, Education, Energy, Labor, Homeland Security), including high performance school design, siting, construction, superior indoor environments, and the greening of existing schools with preventive maintenance and targeted retrofits. A targeted effort should include facility adaptations to make schools more resilient to severe climate events and acts of violence.
  • Ramp up federal funding at EPA, Education, CDC, and other programs that work to improve children’s health and safety; expand EPA’s child health and schools-related programs, proportional to the enormous needs: Indoor Air, Chemical Safety, Water, Research, and Children
  • Fund new federal reports and issue new guidance on the impacts of decayed schools on children and on how a changing climate will impact indoor environments.
  • Fund school construction/renovation and urgent repairs to ensure that renovated facilities are healthy places for children and weather resilient.


State and Local Policy

  • Establish state comprehensive school building action plans, advised by a stakeholder committee of agencies, experienced parents, and school personnel, designed to help local schools become greener and healthier for all children and staff.
  • Establish public health services for children at risk or with suspected exposures at school.
  • Promote, adopt, fund, and implement healthy, high performance school facility design and operations and maintenance in every state. Factors include: facility oversight and safe siting; adequate, safe space for outdoor activities; low-emission construction materials; pollutant source controls; ventilation; durable and easy-to-clean surfaces and floors; moisture and mold controls; temperature and humidity controls; acoustics and noise controls; ergonomics; safety and security; daylighting (maximizing natural light); energy conservation; and eliminating legacy toxics.
  • Promote, adopt, and fund standards and programs for healthy and green products and materials, equipment, and services for school construction, instruction, maintenance, and cleaning.
  • Support state agency programs to reduce use and storage of toxic chemicals on site, such as mercury, pesticides, and solvents.
  • Remediate legacy hazards such as PCBs, asbestos, radon, and lead in drinking water in schools.
  • Ensure that parents and employees have an active right to know about hazards: be transparent about risks and remedies so they can support assessments and remediation.
  • Ensure that all facilities are fully accessible to students and employees with asthma and environmental, learning, and physical disabilities and do no further harm to their health.


About the Coalition for Healthier Schools

The loosely held national Coalition was founded in fall 2000 and is coordinated by Healthy Schools Network to provide the “forum and platform for environmental health at school,” through networking conference, reports, and actions.

Members advanced the Healthy and High Performance Schools Act and a National Priority Study on how facilities impact children’s health and learning, enacted in No Child Left Behind, as well as congressional funding to rebuild schools.

Members secured state laws requiring or promoting the use of cost-effective, nonpolluting products in schools, a continuing effort. Collaborative on Green Cleaning and Chemical Policy Reform in Schools.


About Healthy Schools Network

Healthy Schools Network is a 501c3 not-for-profit founded in New York State in 1995 to ensure that every child has an environmentally safe and healthy school that is clean and in good repair, through collaborative research, education, and policy advocacy.

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