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Sick Schools 2009: America’s Continuing Environmental Health Crisis for Children

Posted by Content Coordinator on Thursday, December 17th, 2009

We know that healthy school buildings contribute to student learning, reduce health and operating costs, and ultimately, increase school quality and competitiveness.

However, 55 million of our children attend public and private K-12 schools where poor air quality, hazardous chemicals and other unhealthy conditions make students (and their teachers) sick and handicap their ability to learn.

Differences in school resources for maintaining schools exacerbate social and economic inequities and academic disparities. (3) However, “poor children, in poor schools with a poor environment may have poor academic achievement. To assume that the cause of their lack of achievement is solely due to curricular and teaching deficiencies ignores other strong confounding variables in the child’s environment.”

In 2006, the National Coalition for Healthier Schools ground breaking Lessons Learned: Children – Victims of a Public Health Crisis, a national collaborative report from more than two dozen contributing organizations and individuals, provided case snapshots of children and personnel at risk as well as state-by-state impact data for the first time (see Coalition Policy Position Statement in Appendix). The report galvanized advocates and policymakers and helped pass a federal law giving the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) new authority to issue federal guidelines on school environments and to offer a grant program to state agencies to accelerate healthy schools for all children.

Also in 2006, a companion research report commissioned by Healthy Schools Network Who’s In Charge? documented that while adults in their school workplaces have some system of recourse and support through public health and labor laws, such as OSHA, bargaining contracts, union or professional association support, or occupational health services, no outside public health or environment agency is responsible for providing effective enforcement, protections or interventions specifically for school children at risk or suffering from the effects of poor air quality, chemical mismanagement and spills, or other hazards.

SICK SCHOOLS 2009 updates and expands the 2006 national collaborative report. It shows not only the deep, long struggles to pass and to secure enforcement of laws in the states and locally, but also the continuing environmental public health crisis that is devastating the health, and the ability to learn and to stay in school for tens of millions of American school children every day. At highest risk are children who are in the lowest income, worst-performing schools and those children with underlying health and learning impairments. “This exposure disproportionately compels the most vulnerable to a decade’s worth of exposure in the poorly regulated environment of our nation’s public schools.” At least six million school-age children are without health insurance (see this report’s state data tables), meaning that it is highly unlikely that their daily environmental exposures are being effectively detected and addressed…

Download full report (PDF): Sick Schools 2009

About Healthy Schools Network, Inc.
“Healthy Schools Network, Inc. is a 501 c3 national environmental health organization that does research, information, education, coalition-building, and advocacy to ensure that every child has a healthy learning environment that is clean and in good repair.

Founded in 1995,we have documented and publicized school environmental problems; shaped and won new education, health, and environmental policies; fostered dozens of local and state policy groups; won systemic federal and state reforms; and helped thousands of parents and schools make classrooms and buildings healthier through our EPA award-winning Healthy Schools/Healthy Kids Clearinghouse (Information and Referral Services).”

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