Schools are places where our kids go to learn, to achieve and to build lifelong friendships. They begin to grow into productive citizens in society. School buildings foster productive grow. To youth, school represents the rest of the world, this is the place where our kids spend most of their waking hours.
Environmental health risks in our schools
Unfortunately, growing evidence shows that our school buildings are plagued with environmental health threats, including:
- Lead paint
- Lead in drinking water
- Other common asthma triggers
Numerous studies show, that-these threats, not-only, result in adverse health impacts to students and staff, but that-these threats compromise student learning. Environmental health hinders achievement, increases absenteeism and causes costs to sky-rocket in already cash-strapped schools.
- Approximately 90% of schools were built before 1978.
- In 1978 the federal government banned the residential use of lead paint.
- For schools built before 1978, officials believe, almost 100% of the paint in used is lead-based paints.
- Philadelphia’s children have blood-lead-levels, double the national average.
- 15% of recent water samples taken from Philly public schools had lead levels higher than federal standards for home tap water.
- Asbestos, a known carcinogen, spreads through schools’:
- pipes, heating insulation, floors, ceiling tiles, and other products commonly found in our schools.
These conditions put the health of our kids, teachers, principals and maintenance workers at risk.
We need to protect our kids’ health
All of our schools should be healthy and safe for our children, our teachers, our school workers and our community members.
Yet incredibly, even the most basic standards, to protect our kids and teachers, from environmental health risks in school buildings, are almost non-existent at the federal, state and local level.
This must change.
Do better: The Healthy Schools Initiative
We created the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative to do just that. We brought together parents, teachers and principals, students and community members, and public health experts from Philadelphia and around the country. to develop a plan to address the environmental health threats found in our school buildings.
Our plan includes:
- Improving the Public’s Right to Know: parents, teachers and community members must have access to environmental health data being collected by school district officials—but that’s not shared with the public.
- Establish “the ABCs” for buildings: We must set “Adequate Building Conditions”—the minimally acceptable environmental health standards that should be met by all of our schools buildings.
- Address the most critical environmental health threats in our schools with an action plan to remediate them in the fastest way possible.
- Develop a “Master Plan” for our schools: most large school districts across the country have a Facilities Master Plan to prioritize and ensure schools are healthy and safe. Philadelphia School district, however, does not. We need to change this.
- Create a Healthy Schools Task Force: Parents, students, teachers, unions, and other community stakeholders must create a process to provide input, environmental health recommendations, and assistance with a Facilities Master Plan.
- Increase funding: Our schools must be properly funded to finance these and other critical challenges facing our school buildings.
How you can help
Together, we are confident we can ensure our schools are safe and healthy places for our kids to learn, teachers to teach, and community members to enjoy.
Join the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative today to:
- Submit a Letter to the editor of your local newspaper in support of our efforts.
- Sign up your community group, business, place of worship or other organization to support our campaign.
- Write a letter, send an email or make a phone call to the school district or your local elected official in support of our campaign.
- Volunteer your time, energy or financial support.
Solutions are in use around the country:
School districts across the nation already use, Philly Healthy Schools Initiative recommendations. Now it’s time for the Philadelphia School District to implement these best practices including:
Major cities, across the U.S., established educational Facility Task forces comprised of parents, teachers, principals and community members. Task forces exist in Chicago, Washington DC, Seattle, Baltimore and others.
stakeholders developed rigorous facility performance standards to provide guidance. Stakeholders decide how to: prioritize renovations, modernizations and construction projects. These standards are vital to protect health and create productive learning environments in their schools.
The Boston School District is developing a comprehensive 10-year Master Plan with input from stakeholders and its community-driven advisory committee.
They regularly assess their public school facilities and provides detailed data to state officials. They aim to meet state mandated requirements for educational equity. And to bring all PK-12 schools up to a common set of condition and adequacy standards.