When Abraham Lincoln School in Garfield reopens in September, students will cram into a building constructed 50 years after the 16th president was assassinated and is showing its age: A sagging roof, water damage from leaks in the mortar, no air- conditioning. It gets no better in some schools in Paterson, where the local teachers union has reported mold, leaky ceilings and rodents. But they do have running drinking water, which is more than can be said of at least half the schools in Jersey City. Those schools are examples among dozens throughout New Jersey’s 31 so-called Schools Development Authority (SDA) districts that will fully reopen this school year in “deplorable conditions,” as the Education Law Center put it in legal filings. Hot, overcrowded, poorly ventilated classrooms have become a way of life for students and teachers in these districts that have been so down-at-the-heels that the Supreme Court ruled decades ago that the state is responsible for school repairs and replacement so students can get a “thorough and efficient” education. Read the full story here.
As the new school year starts, the National Coalition for Healthier Schools, coordinated by Healthy Schools Network, is calling for critical and immediate actions and $75 Million in funding to rapidly expand EPA’s capacity to mount education and technical assistance campaigns on clean indoor environments in the nation’s schools: Clean Air, Clean Water, and Clean and Healthy Products. “Clean air in every school should be a national priority for all k-12 schools and childcare facilities,” says Claire Barnett, executive of the Healthy Schools Network. “No child should suffer a full day of polluted and or cold and flu virus-filled indoor air. Teaching suffers; learning suffers; absences and asthma rise. Children are denied the future they and the nation need.”... “Students and staff deserve to learn and teach in healthy schools with adequate ventilation systems. Proper ventilation is important when it comes to good indoor air quality and reducing the spread of COVID-19. Funding must be authorized at the state and federal level to help achieve these goals,” said Heather L. Sorge, NJ Work Environment Council. Read the full article here.
"Heather Sorge is an organizer for Healthy Schools Now, a coalition under the umbrella of the New Jersey Work Environment Council. She said her organization has been advocating for stricter standards for years. The issue, she said, is a lack of awareness. “We’ve advocated for a statewide survey of where these floors are, testing to see if there is a mercury component and then funding on a statewide level because the districts shouldn’t be responsible for these costly repairs,” Sorge said. Not all of the floors are problematic, but it's impossible to know without testing. Mercury exposure can harm the brain and central nervous system. The risk is higher for young children, whose neurological systems are still developing, and who are lower to the ground where vapors linger. Even short-term exposure can cause a cough or sore throat, headaches and chest pain." It's critical that we identify these floors and have them tested and remediated. Read the entire article here.
“Your average school building that you’re going to walk into today is not a commercial facility where you go to do your grocery shopping, or retail shopping, or even a lot of the office spaces that folks are used to going into every day. And even if you want to, it’s really difficult and expensive to retrofit these buildings with the controls needed,” he said. Barkkume discovered guidance for clean air even from the CDC has fallen short. “From the beginning and up until today, the CDC does not recognize full aerosol transmission of the virus and this trickles down to the state level and it informs the requirements the Department of Education places on school districts and it changes the way they do their planning,” he said. He is now working with teachers unions to raise a red flag about air quality in schools. He believes aerosol droplets can escape even when a person’s wearing a mask. And Barkkume says the state has no measurements to prove a school’s met the required clean air standards. There’s been a big focus on filters lately, with some districts investing in MERV filters. But Barkkume says that’s less important than ventilation. And it [...]
Heather Sorge, Campaign Organizer, Healthy Schools Now, WEC had an open conversation with Congressman Norcross to discuss school reopening and staff and student health and safety alongside Marie Blistan, President, NJEA, and Tina Dare, teacher and GR Representative, NJEA. School buildings must be safe for in-person instruction to resume. Watch the video here.
‘If you want to do it, do it right’ Last month, in conjunction with the Coalition for Healthier Schools, the New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC) issued “The Pandemic vs. Schools,” a national call to action emphasizing the importance to districts of having a solid plan before reopening. WEC is a Trenton-based labor coalition that typically concerns itself with workplace health and safety issues. “Schools can either slow the spread of the virus or speed it up,” the report reads. “Right now, schools across the country are struggling to come up with these plans on their own,” a task, it argues, for which many are ill-equipped to respond on the fly. Healthy Schools Now campaign organizer Heather Sorge said an unprecedented absence of federal guidance for public school re-openings has resulted in uneven school re-openings across the country. She hopes that districts will take the time to create rigorous health and safety plans before returning to in-person instruction. “I know there’s a big rush to return to normalcy,” Sorge said. “However, if you want to do it, do it right. “We don’t want to go backwards, and we certainly don’t want to rush to find out that we were wrong, and that we started too [...]
There have been nearly 5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and this virus has no intention of going away anytime soon. As New Jersey plans to reopen schools, health and safety must be at the forefront. We cannot reopen schools without strong health and safety measures in place to protect our students and school staff. Given the lack of strong federal guidance, The New Jersey Work Environment Council, Healthy Schools Now coalition and the national Healthy Schools Network released A Call to Action. It calls on states to produce authoritative school infection, prevention, and control plans which local schools can adopt. This report, backed by science and developed alongside health experts, school advocates, and worker representatives is the first report that simultaneously prioritizes school staff and student’s health. Read the entire op-ed here.
With President Donald Trump calling for campuses to welcome students in the fall and numerous large school districts around the country announcing that online-only schooling will continue, risk management teams are grappling with how to safely proceed amid the coronavirus pandemic. While various studies have found that most children are minimally affected when they contract COVID-19, the safety of teachers and other school workers is a growing concern. The political controversy over school openings is taking place against a backdrop of surging infection rates in some regions and decisions by some states to dial back to previous shutdown levels. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 19 issued guidance to schools, which includes social distancing and cleaning protocols, but teachers unions have argued that the guidance may not be practical or is cost-prohibitive for already strapped school systems. For example, the CDC’s call for improved ventilation systems in schools poses a challenge, because many schools have outdated systems, said Heather Sorge, campaign organizer for Healthy Schools Now, an initiative of the New Jersey Work Environment Council in Trenton, which on Thursday released a statement calling for more guidance and resources. “By their nature, schools are an environment conducive [...]
School Buildings and Occupants Can Speed or Slow the Spread of COVID-19 Jul. 9, 2020 / PRZen / SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- 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. Over 60 national public health and healthy school leaders joined the Coalition for Healthier Schools today to release 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 [...]
Because no one is really sure what the pandemic will look like in two months, the New Jersey Education Association is one of several groups backing a National Call to Action to raise awareness of the need for infection prevention and control plans with the goal of keeping schools open in the 2020-21 academic year. "The CDC guidelines are a minimum," Steve Beatty, NJEA secretary-treasurer, said in a Thursday afternoon Zoom call. "We're not going to have to be able to rely on state guidelines, and in talking about school districts, there can be no flexibility when it comes to the health and safety of our students and our educators and everyone in those buildings." The National Call to Action asks that public health agencies provide structured plans to protect not only students but the educators who interact with them — and everyone else who interacts with both groups outside of the schools. "As a parent, I should not be put in the position to have to choose between my child's health or attending school," Debra Coyle McFadden, executive director of the NJ Work Environment Council, said. "And as an advocate for worker safety, a worker should not have to choose between [...]