The Role of States in Fostering Environmental Health Programs in K-12 Schools
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. Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Washington, Wisconsin, and numerous other states have already done significant work in the area of school environmental health. They have promoted implementation of effective integrated pest managemente practices, indoor air quality programs, healthy energy efficiency policies, and other environmental health-related regulations in schools. Case studies from these programs, and others, are highlighted throughout these guidelines and in Appendix B to demonstrate best practices that states can follow when establishing state environmental health programs for schools.
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.