Healthy School Environments
Developing a Successful State Environmental Health Program for Schools
Overview: Six Steps for Establishing a State Environmental Health Program for Schools
Read the Guidelines
- About the Guidelines
- The Role of States in Fostering Environmental Health Programs in K-12 Schools
- Developing a Successful State Environmental Health Program for Schools
- Tools and Resources to Assist States with Environmental Health Programs for Schools
- IAQ Tools for Schools At-a-Glance
- Implementing Coordinated School Health
- Appendix A: Model K-12 School Environmental Health Program
- What is a School Environmental Health Program?
- Getting Started: Tips for Successful Program Development and Implementation
- How to Use the Model Program
- Five Key Components of a School Environmental Health Program
- Additional Opportunities for Promoting Environmental Health In School Facilities
- Additional Actions to Promote Environmentally Friendly School Facilities
- Appendix B: Case Studies
- Appendix C: Additional Information and Resources
- Appendix D: Frequently Asked Questions
- Appendix E: State School Environmental Health Statutes At-a-Glance
- Step 1: Assess Existing Resources and Infrastructure
- Step 2: Determine Capacity
- Step 3: Develop a Plan
- Step 4: Implement the Program
- Step 5: Evaluate the Program
- Step 6: Sustain the Program
Before a state develops or enhances an environmental health program for schools, it is necessary to assess existing efforts, develop a plan, and build an infrastructure that will support and sustain the program. Communication with program participants and stakeholders is critical when establishing a state environmental health program for schools. States should develop a communication process, for every step of the program, to continuously incorporate feedback and identify opportunities to enhance the program. The figure and discussion that follow provide an overview of six steps that states can take to establish a successful environmental health program for schools.
Six Recommended Steps that States Can Take to Build or Enhance a Sustainable State Environmental Health Program for Schools
|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.|
|Determine Capacity Determine the capacity of each state agency to contribute to an effective state environmental health program for schools.|
|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.|
|Implement the Program Work with the lead office or steering committee to ensure the state program is implemented effectively.|
|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.|
|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.|
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.
Existing state healthy schools initiatives can serve as a foundation for establishing or improving a state environmental health program for schools. By identifying a lead office to coordinate and, where feasible, expand on existing initiatives, states can begin to build the infrastructure necessary to maintain a successful program. The overall infrastructure for the program will vary based on the agencies involved, available resources, and existing policies.
Leadership and Coordination
Several state agencies are likely to be central to a state environmental health program for schools, including the departments of education, public health, environment, and agriculture. Ideally, an office in one of these agencies will take the lead role in managing the overall program (e.g., Washington's lead agency is the state Department of Health and Connecticut's lead agency is the state Department of Public Health). The lead office should be responsible for coordinating across state agencies with authorities, programs, policies, guidelines, and standards affecting school environmental health. The lead office might already be doing work in an area that can easily be expanded to include school environmental health, or might be an office that has resources (e.g., time, personnel, funds, or subject matter expertise) available to commit to the program. In some cases, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have acted as conveners of school environmental health activities. One example is the Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education .
When initiating the program, the lead office should consider reaching out to other states with existing programs to share ideas on potential approaches and strategies for establishing a school environmental health program. At a minimum, the lead office should meet with relevant agencies and departments within the state to better understand, identify, and maintain points of contact for existing environmental health initiatives and resources.
Steering Committee and Program Partners
Many state and local agencies that provide public health, education, and environmental services (e.g., energy, commerce, and local county health departments) will likely have staff with complementary knowledge, expertise, and skills that can be helpful in developing or enhancing various aspects of a school environmental health program. To ensure better coordination on cross-cutting issues and initiatives, the lead office should work with these agencies to establish an interagency team or steering committee. The steering committee will work to set the direction, scope, and priorities of the program.
The following list provides examples of the many types of participants who could serve on or work with the steering committee to establish an effective state environmental health program for schools:
- State legislators and local administrative officials (e.g., county executives, council members, and mayors);
- Local education authorities (e.g., superintendents, chief academic officers, school board members, and school business officials);
- School administrators and staff (e.g., school administration, nurses, educators, and facility managers);
- Community members (e.g., parents, students, concerned citizens, local college/university outreach partners, and commercial businesses contracted by school districts);
- School organizations and associations (e.g., school health councils, education associations, nurse associations, parent-teacher organizations, and labor/teachers unions); and
- Non-profit/non-governmental organizations (e.g., buildings and grounds associations and asthma coalitions).
The roles of the steering committee members and participants should be well established prior to developing or enhancing a state environmental health program for schools. For instance, one agency might take responsibility for consulting with school districts and providing technical assistance, while another agency might take responsibility for responding to emergency incidents or forming a response team. A program might be strengthened by memoranda of understanding between the lead agency and other participating agencies to help outline the roles and responsibilities of each agency in every aspect of the program.
New York State's Guiding Principles for Improving the Environmental Quality of Schools
In December 1994, the New York State Board of Regents adopted a set of guiding principles concerning environmental quality in schools:34
- Every child has a right to an environmentally safe and healthy learning environment that is clean and in good repair.
- Every child, parent, and school employee has a "right to know" about environmental health issues and hazards in their school environment.
- School officials and appropriate public agencies should be held accountable for environmentally safe and healthy school facilities.
- Schools should serve as role models for environmentally responsible behavior.
- Federal, state, local, and private sector entities should work together to ensure that resources are used effectively and efficiently to address environmental health and safety concerns.
Subject Matter Experts
School environmental health can be a complex topic to address. States might need to reach out to various subject matter experts for technical information and additional guidance throughout the development of the program. For example, when determining the proper protocol for addressing specific environmental emergencies, it might be beneficial to consult with experts such as an industrial hygienist for information about environmental testing for mold, or to contact a hazardous material (HAZMAT) specialist to learn more about chemical contamination and clean-up.
Others outside of state agencies, such as Cooperative Extension System Offices, might also be able to provide expertise on promoting healthy school environments. The Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide educational network funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide research-based information. Cooperative Extension System offices can provide locally relevant information on environmental issues including, but not limited to, radon, mold, and integrated pest management.
Another resource available to state environmental health programs for schools is Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs) , which provide consultation and recommendations on children's environmental health issues. PEHSUs are academically based, typically at university medical centers, and are located across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. PEHSUs form a respected network of experts in children's environmental health that is capable of responding to requests for information throughout North America and can offer advice on prevention, diagnosis, management, and treatment of environmentally related health effects in children. In addition, the PEHSU network can be helpful in interpreting reports or testing results from on-site school environmental health investigations and in providing risk communication to school stakeholders. PEHSUs work with schools and health care professionals, parents, community groups, and others to provide information on protecting children from environmental hazards.
Minnesota State Laws
Minnesota's school environmental health program resulted from a change to the Minnesota Department of Education Statute (Minn. Stat. 123B.57 ) requiring all schools applying for health and safety funding to develop an indoor air quality management plan. Since then, more than 90% of Minnesota's school districts have implemented an indoor air quality program.
Minnesota has also adopted several other school-specific laws, including a mercury instrument ban and a school bus anti-idling law. School environmental health efforts are coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Health, in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Learn more about Minnesota's school environmental health initiatives and programs .
States can leverage PEHSUs as a resource for medical information on health symptoms and advice on environmental conditions that affect children's health at schools. The PEHSU network can work in an advisory capacity to assist school districts with specific problems that they might encounter where local resources are not available. Although PEHSUs can be contacted on an as-needed basis for advice on interpretation and messaging regarding specific exposure concerns, they can also be valuable in providing education and directing the lead office and steering committee members toward helpful resources in the planning stages of new programs.
States and steering committees can also consult staff in EPA's Regional offices regarding information and technical assistance in such areas as children's health, indoor air quality, integrated pest management, chemical management, asbestos, lead, and radon. EPA Regional Office contacts are available on EPA's website.
When establishing or enhancing a state environmental health program for schools, it is important to identify and assess existing state healthy schools initiatives such as indoor air quality, integrated pest management, green cleaning, anti-idling, or chemical management efforts. The strengths and opportunities presented by existing school environmental health initiatives can serve as the starting point for an overall state program and can help determine where to focus initial efforts. In addition to assessing existing initiatives, the state emergency management plan should also be reviewed to ensure proper procedures are in place in the event of an environmental emergency (e.g., a chemical spill, mold and mildew damage, or an accidental exposure to contaminants).
As states move toward developing a plan for a new or enhanced state environmental health program for schools, this assessment can serve as a baseline and help identify potential gaps that need to be addressed.
State Laws and Policies
The foundation of many effective state environmental health programs for schools is state laws and policies that ensure all school districts, including those serving children with disabilities and low-income and minority communities, take steps toward improving environmental conditions in schools by establishing a benchmark or standard to which all schools must comply. The lead office should identify any existing laws, regulations, or policies that can help support a state environmental health program for schools. The lead office is encouraged to conduct a review of the environmental health-related laws, regulations, and policies that are currently in place. The review should assess how the laws, regulations, and policies are being implemented or enforced within the state to help identify gaps and outdated policies that no longer serve the state's environmental health goals and objectives. This will also help determine ways that existing authorities can be utilized to improve implementation of the state program. The Environmental Law Institute maintains a database, including an assessment of impact or effectiveness, of state laws and policies covering a variety of school environmental health issues. The lead office should work with the steering committee to consider how existing regulations, policies, and legislation can be used to support, influence, or affect school facility decisions.
The process of reviewing state laws, policies, and regulations should be an on-going effort. The steering committee can help ensure that the state program remains relevant, effective, and sustainable by building on existing laws and addressing any gaps identified in the review process. The work of the steering committee can be facilitated by reviewing regulations and policies to promote healthy school environments that have been put in place by other states. For example, Connecticut has established several school health laws and policies, including anti-idling and diesel emission reduction laws; a green cleaning mandate for schools; a pesticides-in-schools law; and a law requiring new schools to be constructed to high-performancef standards (i.e., energy-efficient, well-ventilated, and good indoor air quality). Existing laws like these and Connecticut's Indoor Air Quality law , as well as state education and labor laws, can serve as examples and might help other states identify opportunities to strengthen their own state environmental health program for schools. Laws, policies, and regulations that support a state environmental health program for schools might:
- Promote the establishment of local school environmental management systems that consider student and staff health and safety in all practices related to design, construction, renovation, operations, and maintenance of school buildings and grounds.
- Establish specific criteria to ensure that school facility, health, and safety inspections help prevent common environmental health issues found in school facilities (i.e., mold and moisture, exposure to chemicals and contaminants, poor indoor air quality, pests, and pesticide exposure).
- Recommend that new and renovated school facilities be designed and built to ensure a sustainable, healthy environment that also conserves energy and saves money.
- Ensure that environmental factors are considered in school siting decisions as recommended in EPA's School Siting Guidelines.
- Provide additional support to schools that are identified as most in need of critical infrastructure repair or maintenance.
- Promote healthy energy-efficient products and practices.
- Encourage environmentally safe purchasing policies for school districts.
Examples of State Policy and Guidance for School Environmental Health
A comprehensive state environmental health program for schools should include policies that address key environmental health issues, including green cleaning, chemical management, indoor air quality, and integrated pest management. States might also choose to go farther and adopt policies that address school construction and energy conservation and efficiency.
This textbox provides an overview of environmental health policies states have developed that could have an impact on school environments. Links to examples of state policy for each environmental health topic are given to provide a starting point for states looking for more information.
When considering a green cleaning policy for your state, the following elements should be included:
- The product categories to be covered by the policy;
- The definition of environmentally preferable products, often referring to third-party certifications;
- A process for stakeholder engagement in developing the policy;
- A process for reviewing and updating the policy; and
- A set of guidelines for outreach and training.
States can provide information and establish policies to help schools properly manage chemicals, as well as establish protocols for preventing, addressing, and responding to chemical incidents in schools. States with chemical management policies and guidance include Colorado (46pp, 206K, About PDF) , Maryland , and Nebraska .
Indoor Air Quality
When considering an indoor air quality policy for your state, the following elements should be included:
- Minimum requirements for school facility conditions that protect the health and safety of children and staff;
- Oversight measures to ensure the policy's requirements are met; and
- Capacity building measures that enable state agencies to provide resources to assist schools, school districts, and local communities in complying with the policy.
Integrated Pest Management
State integrated pest management policies can help schools and school districts prevent pests and reduce pesticide exposure. An effective state integrated pest management policy should include:
- A recommendation for adopting an integrated pest management program;
- Guidelines on when and where pesticides can be applied;
- Signage requirements for pesticide application;
- Required written notification prior to the application of pesticides; and
- Buffer zones around school facilities where pesticides cannot be sprayed.
Existing state integrated pest management programs (e.g., California , Florida , Pennsylvania , and Texas ) are good resources for states to use as guidance in developing standards and policies for integrated pest management in schools.
State School Environmental Health Statutes At-A-Glance
View a table summarizing state statutes as well as an overview of statutes and recommendations for model legislation in Appendix E: State School Environmental Health Statutes At-a-Glance (Current as of July 2013).
STEP 2: Determine Capacity
Determine the capacity of each state agency to contribute to an effective state environmental health program for schools.
Once existing or potential support has been identified through an assessment of state initiatives, laws, and policies, the next step is to determine the capacity of each state agency to contribute to an environmental health program for schools.
The capacity of state agencies to contribute to an environmental health program for schools depends on having both the authorization and the resources (e.g., time, personnel, funds, or subject matter expertise) needed to support the program. No two states are alike in how they prioritize, prevent, and address environmental health issues in schools. Thus, it is important for states to determine which agencies are authorized or funded to cover environmental health- and education-related concerns. 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. The areas that will likely benefit from interagency support include:
- Communicating regulations, policies, standards, and recommendations to prevent environmental health threats in schools;
- Developing tools for monitoring local school district practices to track the progress and challenges of providing healthy and safe indoor environments. For example, RIDE encourages schools to use the Northeast Collaborative for High Performance Schools high-performance scorecard to evaluate the success of their school health programs.
- Engaging with state school-based organizations (e.g., parent-teacher organizations and teachers' unions) to disseminate information and encourage them to communicate with their constituents;
- Coordinating existing resources and tools that can support the state program. For example:
- Technical assistance for school districts;
- Potential funding for school districts to implement the program; and
- Training, certification, and continuing education programs for teachers, administrators, nurses, facility managers, custodians, other school staff, and community leaders.
- Developing an emergency management plan that outlines protocols, procedures, and points of contact that can be used in the event of an environmental health emergency (e.g., a chemical spill, mold and mildew damage, or an accidental exposure to contaminants).
Establishing an effective infrastructure to provide ongoing support is an essential step in ensuring that a state environmental health program for schools will be successful. 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. States can strengthen partnerships with school districts, parents, and communities by establishing accountability procedures for the program and being transparent about the limitations of available resources.
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.
Once a lead office has been established, the existing resources and infrastructure have been identified, and the capacity of each state agency to contribute to an environmental health program for schools has been assessed, the state should use this information to develop a plan for establishing a new, or enhancing an existing, state environmental health program for schools.
The goals and objectives of the state program plan should address how the environmental health program for schools will work to protect the health of children and staff. When setting program priorities, states should first ensure that schools and school districts understand and adhere to local, state, and federal environmental health laws and regulations. States can then focus on ways to help school districts address school facilities with the greatest needs, or those with immediate health issues and concerns (e.g., extensive water damage or mismanaged chemicals). State program plans should give special consideration to ways that assistance can be provided to schools that serve students with disabilities and to school districts in underserved or low-income areas. Schools serving these communities often face the most challenging school environmental health issues.35 School districts with funding limitations might need additional resources and information to address environmental health concerns. These school districts also could need additional assistance with identifying issues and solutions that are inexpensive to implement and can have an immediate positive impact on the school environment. States should reach out to potential partners such as colleges and universities, state associations and organizations, and other stakeholders that can provide technical assistance and resources to schools and school districts in these areas.
Establish Goals and Priorities of the State Program Plan
It is critical for states to develop goals in the early planning stages of an environmental health program for schools to provide focus and a basis for measuring progress. Using the information gathered from the initial program assessment and capacity determination, states can set goals that are clear and measureable, and can be reasonably accomplished within a specified timeframe. Goal-setting provides a tangible roadmap for the state program as it progresses. Thus, states are encouraged to set short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. It is imperative that all individuals involved in the state program understand the program goals. Examples of general goals include:
- Develop an environmental management system that school districts across the state can adopt to improve the health of children and school staff.
- Promote the importance of environmental health in schools and help school districts identify those schools that could benefit most from an enhanced focus on environmental health (e.g., schools with critical maintenance and repair needs, high absentee rates or above average rates of asthmatic children, children from low-income or underserved communities, and children with disabilities).
- Ensure that resources (e.g., tools, training, and information) are accessible to help school districts implement local school environmental health programs.
- Ensure that procedures, protocols, resources, and points of contact are established to manage environmental health emergencies.
- Establish policies, guidance, and best practices at the state level that address key environmental health issues, including:
- Green cleaning,
- Chemical management,
- Indoor air quality,
- Integrated pest management,
- Construction and renovation, and
- Classroom comfort (e.g., ventilation, acoustics, lighting, and temperature control).
- Identify options for smart materials selection (i.e., products that have less effect on human health and the environment than equivalent, competing products) when building new or renovating existing school facilities, and the use of healthier, less toxic products in all school facilities.
- Provide tools, such as those included in the model K-12 school environmental health program (found in Appendix A ), that can be adopted by schools and school districts to facilitate implementation of their own environmental health programs.
- Develop state learning standards for incorporating environmental health instruction into the student curricula.
Colorado Connections for Healthy Schools
Colorado Connections for Healthy Schools (CCHS) began in 2003 as part of the CDC's Coordinated School Health strategy. CCHS's mission is to provide a framework to help build Colorado's infrastructure for coordinated school health. Core CCHS partners include:
- Colorado Department of Education;
- Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment;
- Colorado Legacy Foundation;
- Colorado Health Foundation;
- Center for Research Strategy;
- Creative Media Solutions; and
- RMC Health.
Through grant funding from the Colorado Legacy Foundation and the Colorado Health Foundation, CCHS acknowledges the achievements of schools that scored highest on the Healthy School Champion Scorecard, a self-assessment tool that evaluates a school's performance on the eight components of Coordinated School Health. In the first year, more than 100 Colorado schools submitted scorecards and the top 15 schools received mini-grants.
In 2012, Colorado Connections for Healthy Schools became the Colorado Coalition for Healthy Schools to reflect the program's evolution into a statewide coalition that addresses school health more broadly and comprehensively.
Learn more about the Colorado Coalition for Healthy Schools.
To support program goals, a state program plan should include metrics. The metrics should be specific to the goals, resources, and needs of each state. The States of Connecticut and Rhode Island provide two examples of metrics that have been developed for existing school environmental health initiatives that also can be used as metrics for other state programs.
- The State of Connecticut collects data from school districts on health statistics that can be influenced by school environments (e.g., asthma-related data and reductions in absenteeism).
- The State of Rhode Island tracks the number of school districts that are participating in a component of the state program (e.g., EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools) or that have implemented the overall state program.
Schools and school districts need to know the appropriate procedures and points of contact when faced with an environmental emergency. States can assist in these emergency situations by ensuring that schools and school districts are included in, and are aware of, the state emergency management plan. Emergency management planning can help ensure that states, schools, school districts, parents, and local communities are equipped to respond properly to environmental emergencies in schools. If one does not already exist, states are urged to develop an emergency management plan prior to implementing the environmental health program for schools. Basic emergency management and preparedness at the state level involves:
- Maintaining a consistent and up-to-date emergency preparedness guide and occupant emergency action plan;
- District-wide emergency preparedness training on topics such as safety drills, emergency evacuation, chemical spills and contamination, shelter-in-place, bomb threats, poison control, natural disasters, and fire;
- Addressing the unique needs of children with disabilities;
- Identifying reliable consultation service(s) with industrial hygienists, physicians, HAZMAT teams, and PEHSUs;
- Ensuring points of contact for reporting potential environmental health concerns are identified and available to stakeholders and local communities;
- Establishing a reporting and investigation process for addressing incident reports;
- Conducting periodic assessments of new and emerging hazards relevant to schools; and
- Providing frequent guidance and recommendations to schools and school districts throughout the emergency situation.
States are encouraged to provide an emergency preparedness guide as a general safety directive to which schools and school districts can refer for various emergencies as part of the emergency management plan. States also should consider including an occupant emergency action plan outlining protocols and procedures that can be used or adapted by schools and school districts to reflect specific information (e.g., individual school building structures, fire department regulations, school chemical inventories, and procedures for assisting children with disabilities). At a minimum, states should set up a process that schools, school districts, parents, and local communities can follow to report environmental emergencies and incidents.
Developing a strategy for implementing a state environmental health program for schools is a key component of the program plan. Methods for implementation will vary across states and will be driven by each state's needs and available resources. The lead office can work with the program participants or the steering committee to develop an implementation strategy that:
- Outlines the goals of the program;
- Identifies the activities to be completed for each goal;
- Defines a timeline for taking action toward each program goal;
- Lists the resources and funding needed to implement the program;
- Incorporates a communication plan outlining how information and resources will be disseminated to school districts and program participants;
- Identifies training needed to implement the program;
- Defines milestones and measurement criteria to guide and assess program progress;
- Establishes a process for tracking the milestones and measurement criteria that will be used to guide and assess program progress;
- Ensures compliance with all federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations; and
- Enforces existing policies, sets school standards, modifies school inspection criteria, or adds school environmental health responsibilities to position descriptions to institutionalize and sustain the program.
Washington School Environmental Health and Safety Program
The School Environmental Health and Safety (SchEH&S) Program in Washington's Department of Health is guided by state school environmental health policies. In 1955, Washington passed the State Board of Health Rule for Primary and Secondary Schools, which established minimum environmental health and safety standards for education facilities (e.g., siting, lighting, ventilation, noise, heating, and safety). In the mid-1990s, the Washington State Department of Health and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction brought together a range of school stakeholders to develop one set of guidelines on health and safety rules and best practices for K-12 schools: the Health and Safety Guide for K-12 Schools in Washington (2000, 2003, 2012).
The Department of Health SchEH&S Program places a strong emphasis on technical assistance, training, and education. The program works with federal, state, and local partners to provide technical assistance to local health jurisdictions and school staff (e.g., risk managers, maintenance and operations staff, custodians, nurses, and administrators) on environmental health and safety issues. For example, the Department of Health, the King County Local Hazardous Waste Management Program, state agencies, Educational Service Districts, Washington State University, and EPA provide technical assistance and training on integrated pest management, safe chemical management, and lab safety in schools. Other key partners include the Washington State Coordinated School Health Program and the Pacific Northwest Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit.
The Department of Health SchEH&S Program promotes school environmental health and safety through presentations to, and participation in, various school and public health trainings and committee work. The program holds an annual fall workshop that brings local health jurisdictions and school staff together to network and receive information on school environmental health and safety. Newsletters, listservs, and the Department of Health SchEH&S website are additional tools used to reach target audiences.
Learn more about Washington's School Environmental Health and Safety Program .
As part of the implementation strategy, states can consider customizing the model K-12 school environmental health program (found in Appendix A ) to reflect their priorities. Customized information can include specific policies and standards for environmental health issues; emergency management protocols, procedures, and points of contact; and local resources that can assist schools and school districts in developing and sustaining their own environmental health programs and activities. The customized model program can be disseminated to schools and school districts by states as part of an outreach campaign to generate interest and participation in the state program.
Public Communication and Outreach
Regular, effective, and transparent communication is vital to the state program's success. In addition to school districts and program participants, parents and local communities need to understand school environmental health issues and how the state program will help protect children and school staff. Prior to implementing an environmental health program for schools, states are encouraged to develop a communication strategy that outlines how program information will be shared with schools, school districts, parents, and local communities. States should consider using practical and creative outreach methods to increase program support including websites, social media, newsletters, articles, and listservs. To keep the public engaged in the program, states can center communication efforts on key topics such as:
- The priorities, goals, and benefits of the program;
- How the program will address underserved communities or populations, or those that might be disproportionately impacted by environmental risks (e.g., low-income and minority populations and children with disabilities);
- Which schools and school districts are taking action toward implementing environmental health programs;
- Assessments of school conditions;
- Interventions concerning school environmental health issues; and
- Points of contact for additional information and to report concerns.
States should identify key messages and opportunities to keep the public engaged and informed of actions that are being taken within the state to create healthy school environments for children and school staff.
Staff Training and Education
Providing training and education opportunities to state program participants as part of the program implementation is crucial for future success. Training can be provided by the state, members of the steering committee, a trainer with expertise in school environmental health, a partnership between governmental organizations and NGOs, or successful peer trainers. Trainers should be able to speak from experience and communicate effectively with the audience. In addition to having the expertise to address environmental health issues in schools, the PEHSU network can serve as a resource in identifying existing evidence-based curricula or presentations to assist with the training process. Training topics could include:
- Children's environmental health and safety in schools,
- The basic elements of the state program,
- Plans for implementing the state program,
- Best practices and lessons learned from existing state environmental health programs for schools, and
- The policies or standards currently in place that support the state program.
Educational material and information might include:
- An overview of children's environmental health issues;
- Actions that schools and school districts can take to ensure that school environments are healthy;
- Resources available to schools and school districts like EPA's IAQ School Champions and EPA's IAQ National Schools Network, which help schools and school districts learn more about the strategies, challenges, and commitments of others to protect children and school staff on a peer-to-peer basis;
- Protocols, procedures, and points of contact for environmental health emergencies;
- Existing training, certification, continuing education, and other learning opportunities for program participants;
- Outreach tools and approaches (e.g., public television, events, word-of-mouth campaigns, peer-to-peer collaboration, and social networking) to increase awareness of the state program; and
- Feedback, success stories, and lessons learned.
Measures to Assess Progress
Having measures to assess progress can help sustain state environmental health programs for schools. When planning and coordinating the program, it is important for states to recognize early program success. Communicating milestones such as identifying the top priorities for the program and developing an emergency management plan can keep interest and enthusiasm high. Once the program has been implemented, immediate successes like increased participation, new partnerships, and incremental steps that schools or school districts take to adopt the program can be used to help measure progress. Data obtained by conducting site visits, regular reporting, and other methods can help benchmark efforts and outcomes across school districts within a state. Some baseline data might already exist (e.g., absenteeism rates and energy use). The steering committee can help establish a mechanism and timeline for tracking progress, and can determine whether the measurement plans need to be vetted by a human subjects research review process (e.g., a state institutional review board). States can use this information to make key decisions and to identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in the overall program.
After considering and applying these initial steps, states might wish to consider piloting the program among selected schools or school districts before implementing the program more broadly.
STEP 4: Implement the Program
Work with the lead office or steering committee to ensure the state program is implemented effectively.
Implementing and Sustaining a Successful Environmental Health Program for Schools
Steps 4–6 outline actions that states can take to implement and sustain a state environmental health program for schools.
Implementation will depend greatly on the state program's goals, priorities, and resources. For example, the Wisconsin Green and Healthy Schools Program worked with individual schools to complete a three-step certification process, and the New Hampshire Partners for Healthy Schools Program leveraged partnerships with state agencies and non-profit organizations to provide free assessment training, technical assistance, and mentoring to address environmental needs identified by schools.
State program implementation might incorporate a variety of strategies such as broadly announcing the program and making basic information readily available to school districts and the general public (e.g., existing resources, tools, and points of contact for the program). In cases where states are expanding existing environmental health programs for schools, implementation can involve sharing information about the new aspects of the program or providing a centralized source of information pertinent to school environmental health. Effective communication and outreach are instrumental in getting schools, school districts, parents, school staff, and students engaged to support and sustain school environmental health programs. Communication and outreach to parents, students, and the general public can include information such as:
- The state program's goals;
- Pertinent federal, state, and local laws and regulations;
- Tools and resources available to help support or participate in the state program;
- Methods for providing feedback on the state program (e.g., for administrators, teachers, students, and parents);
- Points of contact for additional information and technical assistance; and
- Recognition of successful school districts or school initiatives and those schools and school districts making incremental changes.
The lead office or the steering committee can also reach out to individuals and organizations, such as public health professionals, parent-teacher organizations, schools of public health, and colleges and universities to partner with them in support of school districts and their efforts to create healthy school environments. An excellent example of successfully implementing a state environmental health program for schools can be found in Connecticut's Tools for Schools program .
Connecticut Tools for Schools Program
In 1999, representatives from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, EPA Region 1, and the Connecticut Council for Occupational Safety and Health began meeting to develop a comprehensive and coordinated statewide strategy to promote EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit and program as a viable, proactive intervention to address indoor air quality problems in Connecticut schools. Connecticut's work has led to the development of a statewide, multiagency consortium, the Connecticut School Indoor Environment Resource Team (CSIERT). Since its inception, CSIERT has expanded Connecticut's program to address a variety of environmental health issues.
By implementing the EPA IAQ Tools for Schools program, the state of Connecticut has helped address indoor air quality issues in more than 800 schools. School districts throughout the state have benefitted from implementing this component of a K-12 school environmental health program through:
Improved Health Outcomes within Connecticut School Districts
- An 11% reduction in the number of visits to school nurses. (North Haven)
- A decline of 21.2% in asthma incidents in 1 year. (Hartford)
- Absenteeism cut by more than half. (Hamden)
- A decrease of 48% in the number of reported cases of respiratory-related illnesses. (North Haven)
- Number of asthma-related health office visits decreased from 463 to 82 over 4 years. (Chester)
Cost Savings for Connecticut School Districts
- Decreased indoor air quality related workers compensation claims. The average decrease was 3.6 claims. The severity of claims decreased 87%, for a total savings of $56,705.
- Decreased energy costs with well-maintained buildings and equipment.
Positive Public Relations
- Positive feedback from teachers' unions.
- Positive media coverage.
- Improved faculty and school staff morale.
- Increased community trust.
Visit the Connecticut Tools for Schools website for more information.
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.
An important part of implementing the state environmental health program for schools is evaluating progress made toward adopting the state program, as well as the program's goals, activities, and milestones, to determine whether they need to be revised or expanded to improve the program. Ideally, school districts and other stakeholders should take part in the evaluation. Evaluations should be conducted on a regular basis and might include:
- Assessing progress toward meeting the short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals as established in Step 3;
- Revisiting and updating the program priorities, as needed;
- 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;
- Recognizing any obstacles or challenges encountered when implementing the program;
- Identifying areas of the program that need improvement or refinement (e.g., the emergency management plan or communication and outreach strategy);
- Assessing the training opportunities and resources that states provide to program participants and school districts;
- Assessing each school district's progress toward implementing environmental health programs in schools; and
- Reviewing the membership of the steering committee or program participants, as necessary.
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. The CDC's School Health Profiles (Profiles) is a useful tool for assessing existing health policies and practices in schools. Profiles is a system of surveys conducted every 2 years by many state education and health agencies among middle and high school principals and lead health education teachers. States can administer Profiles to monitor what proportion of schools in their jurisdiction have school improvement plans that include healthy school environment objectives; have a school health council, committee, or team; have tobacco-free school policies; and have attempted to minimize asthma triggers in the school environment.
EPA's Healthy School Environments Assessment Tool (HealthySEATv2) is another useful tool that states can encourage school districts to use to measure progress in individual schools. HealthySEATv2 is a fully customizable software program designed to help school districts evaluate and manage all of their environmental, safety, and health issues and can help standardize reporting among different school districts within a state.
States should collaborate with schools and school districts to share successes and lessons learned. States should establish mechanisms (e.g., newsletters, an annual meeting, participating in existing school board meetings, conference calls, and webinars) that allow schools and school districts to share their program evaluations, discuss the results, and provide recommendations to other schools for improvement, if needed. States can also encourage school districts with successful environmental health programs to mentor other school districts in best practices for developing and implementing sustainable program strategies.
Examples of States and School Districts Adopting HealthySEAT
- The Ohio Department of Health has posted a customized version of HealthySEAT on the Ohio Department of Health website to help school districts and local health departments conduct annual inspections of school buildings and grounds to identify health and safety concerns.
- The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has developed a version of HealthySEAT with specific information customized for New Hampshire. New Hampshire HealthySEAT is designed to be used as a starting point for New Hampshire school districts to further customize HealthySEAT for use in their own districts. The project is a partnership of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, the New Hampshire Department of Education, health departments in the cities of Manchester and Nashua, and the New Hampshire Partnership for High Performance Schools.
- The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality received an EPA Indoor Environments grant award of $28,900 to integrate the environmental health and safety requirements and best practices from Mississippi's Education, Environmental and Health Programs into HealthySEAT. The grant also included piloting HealthySEAT with the Cleveland School District and incorporating lessons learned and successes realized into a training program to be conducted for other school districts.
- In conjunction with their indoor air quality walkthrough and incident reports, Katy Independent School District in Texas is using HealthySEAT to record their indoor air quality assessments and develop an indoor air quality profile for each school and facility. HealthySEAT is helping Katy document each school's unique environmental health issues so they can be resolved in a timely and cost-effective manner.
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.
The results of the state program evaluations should be used to make adjustments, as needed, to enhance and sustain a successful state environmental health program for schools. States can use the results of the program evaluation 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.
Sustaining a successful state environmental health program for schools requires demonstrated management support and a consistent commitment over time. States should continue to engage steering committee members to offer insights on emerging environmental health issues, and develop policies and programs that further support the program's goals. States should also keep schools and school districts informed about updates to the program, as well as new policies, tools, and resources that become available.
U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Recognition Award
The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Recognition Award recognizes schools that save energy, reduce costs, feature environmentally sustainable learning spaces, protect health, foster wellness, and offer environmental education to boost academic achievement and community engagement. States can nominate schools where staff, students, officials, and communities have worked together to produce energy-efficient, sustainable, and healthy school environments. Seventy-eight schools from 29 states and Washington DC were recognized for the 2011–2012 inaugural year of Green Ribbon Schools.
State environmental health programs for schools can help schools meet Green Ribbon Schools award requirements, and states should encourage schools and school districts to participate.
Another way states can sustain successful programs is through public-private partnerships. By partnering with businesses, colleges and universities, and trade associations, states can obtain needed expertise and resources to maintain and enhance school environmental health programs. States also can encourage participation in, and improvement of, environmental health activities across school districts by offering recognition or incentives, such as:
- Recognizing and sharing successful school district efforts;
- Nominating schools for national or state awards (e.g., the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Recognition Award, Florida's Governor Serve to Preserve Green Schools Award , and Texas's Green Ribbon Schools Award );
- Creating a state recognition program if one does not exist;
- Creating new non-financial incentives; or
- Collaborating with independent or non-profit organizations to provide financial incentives.
Above all, states should share successes with members of the community. Communicating progress and success is necessary to maintain support for a state environmental health program for schools. Newsletters, listservs, and the Governor's State of the State report are just some methods for sharing successes. The lead office should keep documentation and good records of program progress to facilitate communication. Examples of such documentation include:
- Case studies of schools and school districts that have adopted a school environmental health program,
- Yearly progress reports,
- Performance measures,
- Absenteeism information, and
- Expenditures and other budgetary data.