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Healthy School Environments

Role of States in Fostering Environmental Health Programs in K-12 Schools

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States Play a Critical Role

States can play a variety of critical roles in promoting and ensuring that schools implement effective, comprehensive, and sustainable environmental health programs. For example, state agencies have participated in the development and implementation of policies and regulations for schools that encourage adoption of environmental health best practices and ensure healthier, productive environments for children and staff. Successful implementation of these best practices for healthy school environments can help reduce children and staff absenteeism, improve student performance, and prevent unnecessary costs associated with unhealthy school environments. 5

These voluntary guidelines present best practices and lessons learned from existing state programs in an effort to encourage states, schools, and school districts to adopt health-promoting practices in schools. Numerous states have already done significant work in school environmental health including:

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Kentucky
  • New Hampshire
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

These states have promoted implementation of effective integrated pest managementHelpintegrated pest managementA combination of biological, cultural, and genetic pest control methods with use of pesticides as the last resort. IPM development to reduce the population. Land use practices are examined for possible change; other animals, birds, or reptiles in the ecosystem are used as natural predators. practices, indoor air quality programs, healthy energy efficiency policies, and other environmental health-related regulations in schools. See the State School Environmental Health Statutes At-a-Glance to learn more about what states are doing to demonstrate best practices that states can follow when establishing state environmental health programs for schools.

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Basic Elements of a State Environmental Health Program for Schools

A state environmental health program for schools is characterized by key state agencies (e.g., departments of health, education, energy, and environment) working together along with stakeholders to develop and implement comprehensive policies, best practices, and standards to help schools and school districts address environmental health issues in school facilities. Leadership from a state program can provide schools and school districts with the consistent guidance, resources, tools, and information they need to create healthy school environments for children and staff that promote high student achievement.

Effective state environmental health programs for schools incorporate the following basic elements.

Policies and Standards – Several effective state environmental health programs for schools have been built on a foundation of state policies and standards that support, promote, or require schools and school districts to implement practices that promote environmental health. States are encouraged to identify and implement existing policies and standards that can help establish a robust school environmental health program, and to consider whether there are additional opportunities to protect children's health through the development of additional statewide policies or standards for healthy schools.

Guidance and Technical Assistance – Effective state environmental health programs for schools provide guidance, technical assistance, and tools to help schools and school districts take actions to protect environmental health in their school facilities. States should ensure that schools are aware of available resources in a way that is comprehensive, user-friendly, and accessible to all schools and school districts.

Resources – States should identify training opportunities, educational and promotional materials (e.g., fact sheets and brochures), financial assistance, incentives, and other resources that are available to promote healthy school environments for schools and school districts. States are encouraged to review existing resources to identify gaps that could have an impact on the success of the program. EPA's Healthy School Environments website provides a wealth of information and tools that can serve as resources for state environmental health programs for schools.

Communication and Outreach – States should establish methods for disseminating information to school districts to communicate and gather feedback concerning school environmental health initiatives. It is also important to reach out to potential partners such as colleges and universities, foundations, state associations and non-profit organizations, and other stakeholders that can provide technical assistance and resources to schools and school districts.

Emergency Management – An effective state emergency management program or plan focuses on the prevention of environmental health emergencies (e.g., chemical spills, mold and mildew damage, and accidental exposure to contaminants) that could place children and staff at risk. States should have emergency protocols, procedures, and points of contact in place that are accessible to schools, school districts, and the general public. In the event of an emergency, states should provide guidance and recommendations to schools and school districts throughout the emergency situation.

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Promoting Environmental Health in Tribal Schools

American Indian and Alaska Native people have long experienced health disparities when compared with other Americans. American Indians and Alaska Natives born today have a life expectancy that is more than five years less than the U.S. all races population. The continuing health disparities of American Indians and Alaska Natives point to the importance of ensuring that tribal children have safe places to live, learn, and play.

Tribal councils and different tribal agencies, including tribal departments of health, environment, and education will likely have complementary knowledge, expertise, and skills that can be helpful in ensuring that a community, tribal, or Bureau of Indian Education school located in Indian Country (i.e., all lands within the boundaries of an Indian reservation, including fee land) or on other tribal lands provides a healthy learning environment for tribal children.

In cases where tribal members attend schools outside of Indian Country, tribes are encouraged to coordinate with state and local governments to ensure that tribal children have the opportunity to learn in a healthy school. Tribes currently promote healthy school environments by:

  • Assisting schools with the removal and proper disposal of hazardous chemicals;
  • Working to ensure drinking water standards are met at schools;
  • Conducting outdoor classroom programs for students; and
  • Using culturally based education to implement healthy practices at schools.

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State Highlights

Wisconsin Green and Healthy Schools

In 2002, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources adopted a model that integrated many existing school environmental health and safety programs as a way to streamline its work with schools. The result was a web-based certification program available to all Wisconsin K-12 schools designed to directly support schools in their quest for a healthy, safe, and environmentally friendly learning environment.

In 2003, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources rolled out their Green Schools program. A year later, the agency partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to create the Wisconsin Green and Healthy Schools Program. In the absence of school environmental health legislation/policies at the state level, this voluntary, school-paced program promotes environmental health in schools throughout the state in a comprehensive and accessible manner. As of 2012, there are 140 Wisconsin schools participating in the program.

For more information, visit the Wisconsin Green and Healthy Schools ProgramExit.

Rhode Island

In 2007, Rhode Island passed a set of school construction regulations that require all schools receiving construction funding to implement an indoor air quality management plan and use the Northeast Collaborative for High Performance Schools protocol Exit, which  has a strong focus on indoor air quality. Schools are also required to form green teams comprised of school personnel to oversee program implementation and environmental education efforts.

The Rhode Island Department of Primary and Secondary Education (RIDE) has developed a multi-stakeholder, community approach to implement and sustain its school environmental health efforts. RIDE has teamed up with the Rhode Island Department of Health, the National Energy Education Development project, non-profit organizations, universities, and private sector businesses to create outreach materials and provide training. With such a broad coalition of stakeholders, RIDE has helped plan an annual sustainable schools summit. The summit promotes healthy learning environments and provides resources to integrate sustainability practices into school curriculum and culture.

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5 Integrated pest management is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that uses current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interactions with the environment, in combination with available pest control methods, to manage pests economically, and with the least possible risk to people, property, and the environment.