Summit Report Released: Keeping Schools Open in 2022 and Beyond
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Justice and Equity for Children in a Time of COVID and Climate Crises

WASHINGTON - illiNews -- It is back to school across the country. Families know that children need to be in school. Parents, teachers, and administrators know how important safe and healthy schools are. The twin crises of COVID and climate that have broad impact on children's development and learning. In April, the NY-based Healthy Schools Network and several hundred national partners gathered virtually for a National Healthy Schools Summit.

The Summit report is released today knowing that millions of children are reentering schools and the Summit insights may spur schools and communities nationwide to put climate and COVID resiliency for healthier schools at the center of young people's lives.

What emerged from two days of workshops and discussions was a focus on equity and justice. As Princess R. Moss, Vice President, National Education Association, said: "Let's be clear: climate solutions are education solutions. Let's be clear: climate solutions are racial justice solutions. Let's be clear: climate justice is education justice. "Stressing climate's board impacts,

Fedick C. Ingram, Secretary-Treasurer, American Federation of Teachers, said: "Climate justice is racial justice. It is economic justice. It is environmental justice."

"By justice, we mean recognizing that society has a moral obligation to provide the best environment for learning for ALL children," explained Claire L. Barnett, MBA, founder and executive director of Healthy Schools Network. "Too many schools are neither climate-ready nor pandemic-ready. And we are sending children back as super weather events get worse. Schools closures have already set back children's health and development. We are releasing the report today to help responsible adults help schools to plan to stay open and be resilient to disasters by sharing information and resources from across the nation."

Keeping Schools Open. Healthy Schools Network hosted its second national virtual summit COVID, Climate, Children & Schools: Focus on Climate in April 2022. The event elevated key issues of environment, health, and education justice that have come into sharper focus during the COVID and climate crises. How to help schools to provide continuous education and services is a critical question for all communities.
  • How can we make K-12 schools more resilient to storms, dangerously hot temperatures, and infectious diseases?
  • How can we ensure that racial and economic disparities no longer cause communities of color and economically marginalized communities to bear the brunt of disasters?
  • How can schools join with their communities to help reduce their own impact on the global climate?

To address these and other crucial questions, the 2022 summit focused on justice issues and children's vulnerabilities, then the steps schools can take to prepare for and mitigate both health -- including mental health -- and climate threats.

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Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, MPH, Executive Director, Children's Environmental Health Network, "The environmental conditions of schools directly impact their health and influence their ability to learn. Too many of our children, and especially our children of color and those living in under-resourced communities, attend schools in poor condition. To keep schools open during the evolving COVID crisis, and in the face of the climate crisis, they all must be healthful places. Clean air, clean water, clean facilities, and safe and suitable outdoor spaces are critical elements for resilient and healthy schools and healthy, thriving children.

Mansel A Nelson, MS, Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals at Northern Arizona University said: "Healthy schools with enhanced ventilation and filtration will help students and teachers be healthy during the evolving COVID crisis. Basic tools like carbon dioxide meters and particulate meters will help school staff monitor ventilation and filtration."

Added NEA Vice President Moss, "Climate change has only worsened already existing problems for our students and educators in school. For example, asthma, which has grown worse from steadily decreasing air quality, is one of the leading causes of 10-and-a-half million school day absences every year. This isn't some abstract issue for the future, it's real and it impacts our students' ability to learn and grow. But some students are even more negatively affected than others and that's why we must place equity at the forefront of our responses for a clean economy and a sustainable future. It is imperative that we use collective action to combat these negative effects for all children - and the three million members of the NEA are ready for the work ahead."

Kent McGuire, PhD, Director, Education Program, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation said, "To keep schools open during the evolving COVID crisis, and in the face of increasingly extreme weather when all children will spend more time indoors, schools must be healthful places. Facilities should have clean air, clean water, clean buildings and grounds, and safe and suitable outdoor spaces, while reducing their carbon footprints. These are critical elements for resilient and healthful schools."

Craig Schiller, Director, Collaborative for High Performance Schools said: "Children spend up to one-third of their young lives in schools; Their ability to learn, how their social interactions are shaped, and their physical, mental, and community health are all intimately intertwined with their school. A child's first impression of our national values, scientific progress, how to participate in a sustainable community, and our societal investment in their success are, quite literally, manifested in their school building. Any solutions aimed at improving our public health, or mitigating and adapting to a changing climate, must include substantial national investment and strong interagency coordination to improve  school infrastructure."

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Susan Goekler, PhD, Board President, Healthy Schools Network commented, "Healthier school environments can lower costs and help communities. During the summit, I learned that replacing asphalt playgrounds and outdoor spaces around schools with trees, grasses, and plants can lower summer temperatures by up to 15oF, making school yards pleasant spaces for all."

Nearly three hundred people participated in the 2022 summit. This growing base of informed advocates from forty-five states included seventy-three representatives of local schools, seventy-five representatives of public agencies (health, environment, energy, education), and eighty-seven representatives of NGOs, as well as attendees from several countries in the EU, plus India and Nigeria.

Other topics discussed at the Summit, and highlighted in the innovative online Summit report that features video clips of speakers, include:
  • -      School closures during the pandemic have come with high costs to children, families, and the economy. The lack of clear direction from federal agencies left local state, city, and school district officials to make the toughest decisions.
  • -       A national priority on school preparation and recovery efforts should be guided by carefully developed and communicated interagency strategies and supported by equitable funding adequate to the enormous task.
  • -       Learning conditions are educators' working conditions, but children have particular environmental health and developmental needs. Children breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, and the impact of illnesses and injuries during their developing years—including missed schooling and pandemic isolation—can have devastating consequences.

-       Looking ahead, public agencies must face new roles and challenges. Environment, energy, health, education, labor, and emergency management agencies at the federal and state levels have important roles to play. Clearly, strongly coordinated interagency programs are critical to operating schools and protecting children through and recovering from disasters.

Copies of COVID, Climate, Children & Schools: Focus on Climate 2022, including links to video clips from the Summit sessions, is available at

The national Coalition for Healthier Schools, a loosely held coalition established in 2001, has previously secured new funds for EPA and an authorization for ED. In view of the COVID and Climate disasters and lack of preparedness of schools, it has urged the Congress to fund US EPA's Clean Air in Schools and its Healthy Children educational programs at $110 million annually. If also supports additional federal funding to reduce legacy toxics in schools, such as asbestos, lead, PCBs and to rebuild America's failing public school infrastructure.

Claire Barnett

Source: Coalition for Healthier Schools
Filed Under: Health

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