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Improvement of School Environment Needed to Protect Children
(Beyond Pesticides, April 21, 2004)
Beyond Pesticides joins the National PTA, American Public Health Association, Healthy Schools Network, and scores of organizations representing millions of parents and school employees, in calling upon members of Congress and President Bush to address the impacts of decayed and environmentally contaminated schools on child health and learning, as part of the National Healthy Schools Day, which kicked off National School Building Week (April 19-23, 2004).

"Every single day millions of children attend schools whose contaminated conditions harm health and undermine learning. Congress and The Administration know that healthier facilities have better outcomes, yet have failed to invest in key programs to help the nation's 53 million children enrolled in 115,000 schools," said Claire Barnett, Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network.

Daniel Swartz, Executive Director, Children's Environmental Health Network, raising questions about illnesses and disabilities, asked, "With asthma the leading cause of school absenteeism and rates of learning disabilities skyrocketing, why can the federal government not help schools understand that environmental factors are playing an increasing role in child development and provide schools with funds to fix health hazards or to engineer better facilities?"

In Washington, the national Coalition wrote to Congress and to President Bush, urging them to:

  • Pass the School Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) that requires schools to use safer pest control methods;
  • Demand that the US Department of Education submit the long-overdue Study of National Significance on the impacts of decayed schools;
  • Fund the Healthy, High Performance Schools program at $25 million a year;
  • Expand funding for US Environmental Protection Agency's "IAQ Tools for Schools" and "Design Tools for Schools" programs; and,
  • Support federal funds for repairing and for constructing schools.

"While schools are held to the highest academic standards possible, schools falter with regard to enforcing the highest possible safety standards. Learning starts with a healthy environment," states Kagan Owens, Program Director at Beyond Pesticides. "SEPA is essential to making sure that all students and school staff are protected from the unnecessary use of hazardous chemicals."

"The environmental condition of America's schools and the impacts on children, especially low-income children, is a priority for us," said Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association. "Public health must not stop at the schoolhouse door. Should the poorest children and the highest risk learners have to beg for repair funds?"

National PTA President Linda Hodge added, "National PTA believes that every child deserves to learn in a healthy environment and that improving the quality of the school environment will have a significant impact on student academic achievement."

The national ad hoc Coalition for Healthier Schools, coordinated by Healthy Schools Network, has supported federal funds and policies to improve school buildings. Congress has not renewed $1 billion for repairs, nor funded the Healthy, High Performance Schools program; the Education Department has not sent a long-overdue report to Congress on a National Priority Study on facilities and children authorized in 2002.

TAKE ACTION: Contact president@whitehouse.gov, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt, and your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative, telling them how you feel about the importance of protecting children's health from environmental hazards at schools and the necessity to take action on the above bullets. Specifically let them know how you feel about the need for the federal government to protect children from school pesticide use and that safer pest management strategies are cost effective and are being implemented in school districts across the country. Such examples are included in the Beyond Pesticides and the School Pesticide Reform Coalition's report, Safer Schools: Achieving A Healthy Learning Environment Through Integrated Pest Management.

For local and state protections, contact Beyond Pesticides and learn how to get your school to adopt a safer pest management program by:
(1) Identifying your state and school's pest management policies;
(2) Educating yourself and evaluating the program;
(3) Organizing the school community;
(4) Working with school decision-makers; and,
(5) Becoming a watchdog and establishing an IPM Committee.

For more information, see Beyond Pesticides' Children and Schools issue pages.