On October 28th, CHE-Alaska was joined by Claire Barnett, founder and Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network, to discuss environmental health and justice aspects of schools re-opening across the US. We talked about a recently released collaborative playbook researched and released by the Healthy Schools Network and the NJ Work Environment Council (amongst others) in early July entitled The Pandemic v. Schools: States Must Guide Schools on Reopening, Slowing Spread of Virus.
Children are especially vulnerable to chemical exposures and adverse health outcomes from exposures to contaminants, breathing more air, ingesting more food, and having a greater surface area relative to their body mass and volume. A child’s growth and development makes them more susceptible to toxic chemicals (e.g. lead in drinking water harming brain development), and their unique behavior can bring them into more prolonged contact with toxic chemicals in the indoor environment of homes and schools, as well as playgrounds, parks, and lawns where they play outdoors.
With our children’s health in mind, it is important to carefully consider how to safely open and operate schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Updating cleaning protocols to use least toxic disinfectants, reconsidering IPM, and improving and maintaining ventilation systems are just some of the steps included in comprehensive plans for improving the health of our nation’s schools. This is especially important to consider for under-funded schools where children, teachers, and staff would be disproportionately affected by re-opening of the facilities without other modifications.
This is not just an issue for children. Roughly 20% of the US population enters a school during a typical weekday, and the same protocols should also have the health of teachers, staff, families and the surrounding community in mind. Opening schools during a pandemic can put a significant portion of our population at risk, so a well-researched and thoughtful plan is needed.
The Healthy Schools Network has grown to be ‘the nation’s premier voice for children’s environmental health at school by advancing a comprehensive policy agenda, fostering state and local environmental health coalitions across the country, and securing landmark reforms in states and federally. We’ll discuss recommendations and guidelines compiled by the Healthy Schools Network to be applied at the federal, state, and local levels. The guidelines are intended to be shared with elected officials, families, teachers, and other school staff and include a call to action for health professionals and others to educate and encourage their implementation.
The Coalition for Healthy Schools National Call to Action: The Pandemic v. Schools (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PuJT8Mzqnwbw_36N7cUa7JwEdDA579YW/view) coordinated by the the Healthy Schools Network
Healthy Schools Network (http://www.healthyschools.org/) has additional resources on cleaning products here (http://healthyschools.org/Cleaning-For-Healthy-Schools/Green-Cleaning/) and here (http://healthyschools.org/Clearinghouse/)
Healthy Babies, Bright Futures (https://www.hbbf.org/) – a new alliance of scientists, non-profit organizations and donors who share the goal of reducing babies’ exposure to toxic chemicals during the most vulnerable and significant periods of development: in utero and from birth to age two
Childrens Environmental Health Network (https://cehn.org/) – Since 1992 CEHN has been raising awareness, advocating for evidence-based child-protective policy, supporting preventive research, and providing education and training on children’s environmental health protection – https://cehn.org/resources/for-parents-families-and-other-child-health-advocates/childrens-environmental-health-101/
Claire L. Barnett, MBA, Founder and Executive Director, Healthy Schools Network, Inc. and Coordinator, national Coalition for Healthier Schools. The Healthy Schools Network has challenged the nation with a call to action to ensure that schools are environmentally responsible to all children, to personnel, and to communities. As a child health advocate, Barnett convened the fledgling Network in 1995 as a New York statewide coalition; it has since shaped and won new funds and multiple laws on school environments in the nation’s third largest educational system (NYS) and the nation’s single largest school district (NYC) as well as federally, and fostered state and regional reform coalitions.