Publication date: Jul 06, 2023
School environmental conditions have immediate and long-term effects on student health and learning. Relying on disconnected, inconsistent, voluntary, or unenforced environmental standards has not resulted in sufficient protection of students from toxic insults. Furthermore, the United States public school system was not prepared to navigate a potentially deadly infectious disease like COVID-19. Although Department of Education agencies have policies to establish clean and safe learning spaces, deficiencies are evident. This article highlights common environmental challenges in schools and opportunities for improvement. Voluntary adoption of rigorous environmental policies by grassroots efforts alone is unlikely to occur in all school systems. In the absence of a legally enforced requirement, the dedication of sufficient resources to update infrastructure and build the environmental health workforce capacity is equally unlikely to occur. Environmental health standards in schools should not be voluntary. Science-based standards should be comprehensive, and part of an actionable, integrated strategy that includes preventive measures and addresses environmental health issues sustainably. Establishing an Integrated Environmental Management approach for schools will require a coordinated capacity-building effort, community-based implementation efforts, and enforcement of minimal standards. Schools will need ongoing technical support and training for staff, faculty, and teachers sufficient to enable them to assume greater oversight and responsibility for environmental management of their schools. Ideally, a holistic approach will include all environmental health components, including IAQ, IPM, green cleaning, pesticide and chemical safety, food safety, fire prevention, building legacy pollutant management, and drinking water quality. Thus, creating a comprehensive management system with continuous monitoring and maintenance. Clinicians who care for children can serve as advocates for children’s health beyond their clinic walls by advising parents and guardians to be aware of school conditions and management practices. Medical professionals have always been valued and influential members of communities and school boards. In these roles they can greatly assist in identifying and providing solutions to reduce environmental hazards in schools.