For Immediate Release: Thursday, July 9, 2020
Contact: Debra Coyle McFadden, Director, NJ Work Environment Council, 609-707-1320, [email protected]
Claire Barnett, Executive Director, Healthy Schools Network, 202-543-7555
ADVOCATES RELEASE PLAN TO REOPEN SCHOOLS
PANDEMIC V. SCHOOLS: A NATIONAL CALL TO ACTION
School Buildings and Occupants Can Speed or Slow the Spread of COVID-19
As pressure mounts for schools to reopen this fall, awareness is growing of the need for specific plans on how schools will not just open, but stay open, by protecting the health of children and their families, teachers, administrators and school staff. By their nature, schools are an environment conducive to the spread of illnesses, including COVID-19. They are densely occupied for long periods and have a well-documented history of deferred maintenance which has resulted in well-known problems with ventilation and indoor air and plumbing, and challenges in cleaning.
The virus is not going away. Moreover, the poorest communities hardest hit by COVID-19 also send their children to the poorest schools in the worst condition, making this a supremely challenging health and education equity and rights problem with no quick solution.
Today the NJ Work Environment Council (WEC) and the national Coalition for Healthier Schools co-released a National Call to Action for state health agencies to provide an authoritative School Infection Prevention and Control Plan to all schools to adopt. The current piecemeal approach to no-plan-just-open, will clearly deepen the disparities and sow more confusion at a time when parents and schools need to rely on a stable, predictable course of connected actions.
The Plan covers state roles and local roles, notes federal and state regulations in place, then outlines considerations in reopening buildings that have been closed for weeks if not months, maintaining and updating ventilation and cleaning protocols, and then discusses options for scheduling occupancy, including screening for illnesses, masks and PPE, and services for children with health and learning issues.
The scope of the problems cannot be understated. On any one school day, about 20% of the US population is in a school. Schools are where children spend the most time, other than home—often 30-40 hours per week. Like adults, children may shed and transmit the coronavirus, yet show no symptoms. Except for masks, there is no other “PPE” for children, who breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than adults; further, children cannot identify or protect themselves from risks. There are more than 56 million children in over 125,000 public and private school buildings nationwide. Of the 50 million in public schools, nearly 40% do not have Internet use at home, 29 million receive subsidized school meals, and about a quarter have chronic health conditions. Twenty percent of the teaching staff is age 55 or older, a high-risk category for COVID-19.
Schools can either slow the spread of the virus or speed it up. If they are to reduce, rather than increase, the risk of new COVID-19 outbreaks and repeated closures, schools will need to adopt district wide, facility-level written school infection prevention and control plans to address the details of cleaning, disinfecting, sanitation, indoor air, and environmental quality, as well as occupancy rate.
School Infection Prevention and Control Plans. This report is the national call to action for the public health community—for state, tribal and big city public health agencies—to produce guidance in the form of an authoritative School Infection Prevention and Control Plan that local schools can adopt as they prepare for reopening. These authoritative state-level plans should include detailed recommendations on specific steps that schools should follow and options for other issues.
Led by the NJ Work Environment Council and Healthy Schools Network, with contributions from NJ Education Association and NJ Healthy Schools Now coalition, the partners worked to produce a nationally unique plan of action that begins by addressing both student and employees’ health and safety. This Call to Action offers elected and appointed officials, families and teachers guideposts to increase the chances for safe re-openings. History has seen the premature reopening of schools at the expense of children’s health as communities, families and political leaders fight to regain normalcy.
“Occupational health is vital to protecting public health. As state officials and school administrators prepare to resume in person instruction, development of COVID-19 plans for schools must include input from school staff, parents and community stakeholders in the planning process. Communication, transparency and training must be at the core of any plan,” said Debra Coyle McFadden, Executive Director, NJ Work Environment Council, Trenton, NJ
Today’s virtual press conference included presentations by school and public health leaders and experts.
The recorded press conference presentation is available here.
The Pandemic v. Schools report is here.
Beyond state and local funds, also mentioned during the press conference were potential sources of federal funding to assist with school facilities: the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2020 and US EPA’s Healthy Schools Programs.
Claire Barnett, Executive Director of the New York-based Healthy Schools Network
“As we prepare to reopen schools, we must ensure that schools remain centers of safety as well as beacons for education. For communities like some in the Bronx, that are still experiencing significant transmission rates, it is critical that the state provide clear guidelines and make investments to help schools prepare to reopen. School buildings in these communities are often aging and lack fresh air. The state must spell out standards for ventilation, appropriate spaces for learning, and detailed protocols for cleaning and disinfection. Otherwise, we risk reopening to the possible detriment of already vulnerable communities.”
Marie Blistan, President, New Jersey Education Association
“NJEA is proud to partner with the Coalition for Healthier Schools to ensure that when schools eventually reopen, the safety of students and staff is the top priority. While we must meet our students’ educational and social-emotional needs, we cannot afford to risk their health by rushing to reopen before it can be done safely.”
Steve Beatty, Secretary-Treasurer, New Jersey Education Association (NJEA)
“We understand the importance that our public schools play in any re-opening, and our members are eager to return as soon as it is safe to do so. But their voice, and the voice of our state coalition partners in Healthy Schools Now, must be heard and heeded in any and all plans for the new normal. Ensuring the safety of our kids and educators must be at the forefront of any decisions now and forever.”
Heather L. Sorge, Campaign Organizer, Healthy Schools Now/WEC, Trenton, NJ
“Our children are our most precious resource. It is imperative that states adopt the most protective measures possible when addressing the health and safety of our students and school staff.”
Cathy Lindenbaum, President, New Jersey PTA
“New Jersey PTA has been advocating for the quality of our children’s health, welfare, safety, and equitable education for over 120 years. We believe that it is imperative that when our students return to school in September that each and every school is prepared and ready to ensure the safety of them and all staff members through CDC guidelines as the bare minimum.”
Allen Barkkume, Industrial Hygienist, New Jersey Work Environment Council, Cranford, NJ
“Public education is at the intersection of our nation’s path to recovery, and requires input from a diverse group of stakeholders. In response, this document presents a broad scope of considerations for mitigating risks for both students and staff, and in a way that raises our expectations for healthy school buildings far beyond the impact of the pandemic.”
Donna Mazyck, MS, RN, NCSN, CAE, FNASN, Executive Director, National Association of School Nurses
“In order for parents to send their children to school, they must believe that schools will be safe spaces for their children and families. School nurses have expertise and knowledge in readiness, emergency management, and infection control practices within schools, giving parents confidence as they return to work and students return to in-person instruction. Approximately 30,000 US public schools – 25% – have no school nurse to provide this guidance. As school systems budgets are stressed, it is often school nurses who are laid off, creating a health access disparity for students. These disparities most often occur in already underserved communities and have been made more apparent by COVID-19.”
Georges C. Benjamin, MD, MACP(E), FNAPA, Executive Director, American Public Health Association
“This call to action is crucial because only through uniform infection and control guidance can we reduce the risk of significant COVID-19 infections in schools. Such outbreaks would not only be potentially catastrophic for the lives of students, teachers and other school workers, but have dire consequences for educational programs. Increased resources with special attention to a healthy operating environment is essential to ensuring a safe learning environment for all occupants of our children’s schools.”
Christine Appah, Senior Staff Attorney, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, New York, NY
“Schools have a centering role in many communities and their closures have had serious ramifications on the families that they serve as well as on children’s ability to learn and maintain stability. As we prepare to reopen schools, we must ensure that schools remain centers of safety as well as beacons for education. For communities like some in the Bronx, that are still experiencing significant transmission rates, it is critical that the state provides clear guidelines and make investments to help schools prepare to reopen. School buildings in these communities are often aging and already lack proper ventilation. The state must establish clear standards for ventilation, appropriate spaces for learning and detailed protocols for disinfection and help schools meet these guidelines. Otherwise, we risk reopening to the possible detriment of already vulnerable communities.”
Veronika Carella, Legislative Director, Maryland Children’s Environmental Health Coalition
“Hazardous chemical exposure at school from pest control, sanitizing and disinfecting is linked to life-long adverse health impacts to children, as well as to developing fetuses and infants. Impacts to children’s health from such chemical applications must be considered as schools begin to reopen. Re-opening schools currently closed during the COVID-19 Pandemic provides opportunities to perform proactive maintenance to ensure that pests (and germs) are excluded from our children’s school buildings and grounds, thus significantly reducing (or eliminating) the need to resort to chemical means of pest control. Integrated Pest Management [IPM] Practices can prevent such injuries and should be used for disinfecting (killing germs) as well as pest control (bugs and weeds).”
Cindy Cipoletti, Executive Director, Learning Disabilities Association of America
“Students with disabilities have been among those most harmed by school closures and learning loss. While it is a priority for Learning Disabilities Association of America is to get our students with learning and other disabilities back into schools with the supports and services they need, this must be accomplished with the highest levels of safety and risk mitigation.”
Lorene Alba, Director of Education, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
“With the dangers of COVID-19, schools are faced with developing logistical solutions they’ve never had to consider before. Outside of virtual learning programs, making schools more asthma friendly can help protect an already vulnerable population and reduce the spread of the new coronavirus. COVID-19 disease prevention strategies can possibly create more asthma triggers inside of schools, such as exposure to harsh cleaning chemicals. Regular exposure to triggers can increase asthma symptoms which is something we want to avoid.”
Robin Buchanan, Executive Director, Project Green Schools, MA/National
“It is critical to keep in mind that many people have allergies, asthma, and sensitivities to a variety of disinfectants and cleaning products, especially those that have added fragrances. Reactions to synthetic dyes and fragrances can range from breathing difficulties, behavioral issues, skin irritation, trouble with focus and concentration, to life-threatening anaphylaxis.”
Laurie Combe, MN, NCSN, RN, President, National Association of School Nurses
“In order for parents to send their children to school, they must believe that schools will be safe spaces for their children and families. School nurses have expertise and knowledge in readiness, emergency management, and infection control practices within schools, giving parents confidence as they return to work and students return to in-person instruction. Approximately 30,000 US public schools – 25% – have no school nurse to provide this guidance. As budgets are stressed, often school nurses are laid off, creating a disparity for students. These disparities most often occur in already underserved communities and are made more apparent by COVID-19.”
Monica McHale-Small, Ph.D., President, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Pittsburg, PA
“Students with disabilities have been among those most harmed by school closures and learning loss. While it is a priority for LDA to get our students with learning and other disabilities back into schools with the supports and services they need, this must be accomplished with the highest levels of safety and risk mitigation.”
Elisabeth Krautscheid, Managing Director, Collaborative for High Performance Schools, MA and Sacramento, CA
“The Collaborative for High Performance Schools supports the Coalition for Healthier Schools in their efforts to help schools reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. CHPS supports the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff through its national and state-specific criteria. For updated COVID-19 guidelines, please visit chps.net for our white paper on school-specific indoor ventilation recommendations.”
Dawn Graff-Haight, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Linfield University, McMinnville, OR
“Equity for all students requires us to consider safety before we open schools.”
Francine Locke, Sustainability Director, School District of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
“There is a need for states to provide critical guidance and resources to local school districts in order to prevent significant increases in COVID-19 infections for students, their families and faculty. Without this, the children in the most under-served communities will be at the highest risk of transmission and, because of health disparities that already exist, fatalities. The National Call to Action: The Pandemic v. Schools, provides an equitable and transparent approach for all school districts to design and implement an infection prevention and control plan based upon science and social justice.”
Randall Krocka, Administrator, Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust Inc., Fairfax, VA
“The safety of our children should be of the utmost importance during this pandemic, and with the online learning tools available we need to take a step back and have a national plan on how to safely go back to school in a building and follow that plan. Many of the schools in our districts across the country were inhabited without the proper ventilation, air exchanges, or class sizes before the COVID-19 virus and we cannot send our children into that environment without those heating and AC systems running as designed and properly maintained.”
Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, Executive Director, Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN), Washington, DC
“Getting schools back to school is essential, yet only in the safest and healthiest way. As governors and school leaders across the country work to consider all public health and education needs for this fall, we encourage the use of these important considerations.”
John Zinner, Chair, Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), Sacramento, CA
“CHPS has long pioneered high-performance standards that help all students learn. For example, over half of all US classrooms do not meet building code required indoor air quality standards. The impact of unhealthy air is documented. Addressing these issues is imperative to student and occupant health and learning, including their ability to heal from COVID-19.”
Chip Halverson, ND, Physician and Caucus Chair, NEA Healthy Schools Caucus, Portland, OR
“After months of closed schools, it is imperative that we recognize the need to properly evaluate all schools for Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) issues before retuning in the fall. We must take appropriate steps to protect the children and adults who occupy all schools.”
Dr. Daniel Lefkowitz, PCBinschools.org, Yorktown Heights, NY
“I support a public health call to action for the reopening of our schools.”
Yolanda Whyte, MD, President, Dr. Yolanda Whyte Pediatrics, Atlanta, GA
“This National Call is probably the single most important guidance that we have to protect children from COVID-19 and the emerging, associated Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, and it also supports the investment of additional funding, staffing and other resources to assure its successful implementation.”
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Statement of Support
“States and communities need a framework for decision making, and this is it. While it’s important that individuals seek advice from their own physicians, this document is a useful and helpful step toward what’s next.”
# # #