In a suburban school district in Minnesota, a group of parents formed a committee called Parents for Safer Schools. Their goal was to improve the physical learning environment for students and staff.
Their first step was to write a letter to school officials explaining their concerns about a number of air quality problems that affected their children’s health including vehicle exhaust entering classrooms, air fresheners in classrooms, herbicides used on turf in school yards and insecticides used in food service areas.
Several group members were parents who had adverse reactions to chemicals. These parents had learned how to improve the air quality of their own homes from their physicians and health consultants. They were aware of the research that links irritants, allergens, and toxic chemicals to illnesses and disabilities such as asthma, leukemia, learning and behavior disorders and other conditions. They were motivated to use their knowledge to protect themselves and their children from poor air quality at school.
The school district's health and safety director is a proactive official. He uses the information that parents gathered to make changes in school maintenance practices.
Parents for Safer Schools demonstrate that parents need not be afraid to voice concerns and that parents can be a motivating force in addressing health and safety issues at school.
For example, when parents collected over 150 signatures on a petition asking officials to eliminate the use of insecticides and herbicides in and around the schools, the health and safety director saw the petition as a positive move. He used the parents' concern to initiate a program with the extension service of the local university to implement a non-toxic pest management program on school grounds.
The parents' efforts have empowered the health and safety director to introduce a range of programs and policies for the health and well being of the students and staff. The district has hired a consultant to evaluate materials and develop guidelines for purchasing classroom supplies, cleaning products and other materials. The school district has worked with the American Lung Association and a number of health and environmental organizations to sponsor speakers and environmental health program for the community.
The Parent Group’s success list includes:
Moving bus and delivery vehicles away from air intakes.
Eliminating the use of solvent-based markers and toxic cleaning chemicals.
Improving computer lab ventilation.
Controlling construction and renovation hazards.
Removing particleboard cabinets and furnishings that were emitting formaldehyde.
Adopting child safety criteria for art materials and improving art room ventilation.
Eliminating carpets and promoting non-porous flooring for classrooms.
Ensuring the appropriate exhaust venting of laminating and copy machine fumes.
Promoting a policy to discourage staff and students from wearing perfume and other scented personal products.
Stopping roofing, painting and varnishing projects while school is in session.
Improving hygiene and sanitation practices that eliminated the school's use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides inside the building and on playgrounds and playing fields.
Stopping the use of unventilated portable classrooms.
What is on your school improvement agenda?
The world endures solely by virtue of the breath of school children. (Talmud)