Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Healthy School Environments

Basic Information About the Guidelines

The Voluntary Guidelines for States: Development and Implementation of a School Environmental Health Program is designed to help states address environmental health challenges in K-12 schools by:

  • Outlining steps states can take to establish, promote, and sustain successful and affordable school environmental health programs;
  • Assisting states in providing schools and school districts with technical tools and resources, including a comprehensive model school environmental health program, to help schools implement practical, cost-effective environmental health solutions; and
  • Sharing best practices and highlighting case studies of successful, cost-effective state environmental health programs for schools that can be implemented by other states.

These voluntary guidelines identify five basic elements of a school environmental health program for states, and recommend six steps states can take to build or enhance a school environmental health program. This website includes background information, an overview of the five elements, and a brief summary of each of the six steps offered in the guidelines.

Background Information

Students standing in a row

What is an effective state environmental health program for schools?

An effective state environmental health program for schools is a holistic, comprehensive, and actionable strategy that integrates preventive measures and addresses environmental health issues by fostering well-maintained school buildings and grounds. Sustainable school environmental health programs promote school environments that are conducive to learning and protect the health of children and staff. Existing, successful school environmental health programs have been strongly supported and sustained through the development and implementation of state policies and regulations that promote awareness and participation by teachers, school staff, and students.

Why are school environmental health programs important?

School environments play an important role in the health and academic success of children. Children spend 90% of their time indoors and much of that time is spent in school. Unhealthy school environments can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration, and performance, as well as lead to expensive, time-consuming cleanup and remediation activities.To foster children’s health and academic achievement, healthy school environments must be addressed and integrated within the education system (PDF) (3pp, 420K, About PDF) exiting EPA.

Why did EPA issue the guidelines?

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (310pp, 828K, About PDF), signed into law in December 2007, amended the Toxic Substances Control Act, 15 U.S.C. 2601 et seq., by adding a requirement for EPA, in consultation with relevant federal agencies, to develop voluntary guidelines to help states establish and implement environmental health programs in K-12 schools. 

To complement the guidelines, EPA developed a model K-12 school environmental health program that takes into account a wide range of environmental health issues addressed in EISA, including:

  • Indoor air quality problems resulting from inadequate ventilation; mold and other allergens; chemicals and pesticides commonly found in schools; contaminants such as radon and diesel exhaust that could enter schools from outside; and specific hazards like elemental mercury, lead paint, and polychlorinated biphenyls;
  • Drinking water issues;
  • Safety hazards related to improperly stored or managed chemicals;
  • Natural day lighting;
  • Acoustics; and
  • Other issues relating to the health, comfort, productivity, and performance of building occupants.

Read the model program online for more information.

What can states do?

States can play a critical leadership role in promoting healthy school environments for children. These guidelines build on the foundation established by well-documented strategies and existing federal programs, such as EPA’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Coordinated School Health strategy, and provide examples of best practices from existing state environmental health programs for schools.

How can the guidelines be used?

These guidelines are voluntary and are intended as a resource for states, communities, school districts, schools, and school stakeholders in their efforts to improve the environmental health and conditions of school facilities and to protect the health of children and school staff.

The guidelines recommend six steps states can take to build or enhance a sustainable school environmental health program and provide extensive resources for states to promote healthy learning environments for children and school staff. One resource is a model K-12 school environmental health program, Appendix A to this document, which states can customize and share with schools and school districts to help them establish or enhance their individual school environmental health programs. Additional appendices to the guidelines include:

  • Appendix B: State Case Studies – these case studies highlight states with effective school environmental health programs, including best practices and lessons learned.
  • Appendix C: Additional Information and Resources – a comprehensive listing of websites, tools, and resources that states, schools, and school districts can consult when developing and implementing state and local school environmental health programs.
  • Appendix D: Frequently Asked Questions – this list of frequently asked questions addresses issues such as the purpose, content, audience, and scope of the guidelines.

Top of page

Basic Elements of a State Environmental Health Program for Schools

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. The Resources page for these guidelines provides a wealth of information and tools states building or enhancing an 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.

Top of page

Six Steps for Establishing a State Environmental Health Program for Schools

These guidelines recommend six steps states can take to build or enhance a sustainable school environmental health program. Steps 1–3 outline initial actions states can take to develop a framework for the basic elements of the program: policies and standards; guidance and technical assistance; resources; communication and outreach; and emergency management procedures. Steps 4–6 outline actions that states can take to implement and sustain a state environmental health program for schools.

Read the guidelines online for details on the six steps.

Step 1: Assess Existing Resources and Infrastructure

Identify a lead office within a state agency that can work with other agencies and assess existing state initiatives and any existing laws, policies, or regulations that address healthy school environments.
Key elements of this step include:

  • Determining leadership and coordination for the program;
  • Establishing a steering committee;
  • Identifying program partners and subject matter experts; and
  • Evaluating existing laws, policies, and initiatives that can support a state environmental health program for schools.

Step 2: Determine Capacity

Determine the capacity of each state agency to contribute to an effective state environmental health program for schools.
States need to ensure they have the authorization and resources (e.g., time, personnel, funds, and subject matter expertise) to support an environmental health program for schools. The lead office, working with the steering committee, should determine how each state agency might be able to contribute to a coordinated environmental health program for schools based on the state’s priorities or most immediate needs. States should ensure that effective lines of communication, management support, adequate resources, and a coordination group or points of contact for existing initiatives are in place to manage the basic elements of the state program.

Step 3: Develop a Plan

Develop an initial plan to establish a new, or enhance an existing, state environmental health program for schools based on available resources.
Key elements of this step include:

  • Establishing program goals and priorities;
  • Developing measures to assess program progress;
  • Developing an implementation strategy;
  • Developing a communications strategy to engage key stakeholders and promote the program;
  • Ensuring emergency management and preparedness information is addressed in the program plan; and
  • Providing training and education opportunities to state program participants.

Step 4: Implement the Program

Work with the lead office or the steering committee to ensure the state program is implemented effectively.
Implementation will depend greatly on the state program’s goals, priorities, and resources. State program implementation might incorporate a variety of strategies such as broadly announcing the program; making basic information readily available to school districts and the general public (e.g., existing resources, tools, and points of contact for the program); or providing a centralized source of information pertinent to school environmental health.

Step 5: Evaluate the Program

Evaluate the state program’s goals, activities, and milestones to determine whether they need to be revised or expanded to improve the program.
Program evaluations should be conducted on a regular basis and might include:

  • Assessing progress toward meeting program goals;
  • Revisiting and updating the program priorities;
  • Reviewing the effectiveness of relevant state environmental health policies;
  • Identifying any new funding sources;
  • Analyzing how well the strategies for each goal have worked in practice;
  • Identifying any success factors and best practices; and
  • Recognizing any obstacles or challenges encountered when implementing the program.
  • States should identify and acknowledge schools and school districts that are making incremental changes to create healthier learning environments, and encourage those that are addressing environmental health issues to evaluate their progress on a regular basis. States should also collaborate with schools and school districts to share successes and lessons learned.

Step 6: Sustain the Program

Utilize the results of state program evaluations to determine the return on investment, make adjustments to the program where needed, and communicate successes.
Program evaluations can help states to:

  • Demonstrate a return on investment;
  • Update program training;
  • Revise existing policies and procedures;
  • Develop policies and procedures for additional environmental health issues;
  • Revise program goals and strategies;
  • Implement activities in new priority areas;
  • Communicate successful approaches from state, school, or school district programs; and
  • Identify and engage new steering committee members, partners, and champions to help promote, support, and provide additional resources for the state program.

To sustain a state program, states need to maintain support and commitment from stakeholders, as well as communicate with schools and school districts about updates to the program. States should also consider entering public-private partnerships, developing recognition programs and incentives, and sharing program successes as additional ways to enhance the program’s sustainability.

Read the guidelines online for details on the six steps.

Top of page

Jump to main content.