For years this country has ignored school infrastructure due to attempts to privatize public education. This includes indoor air quality (IAQ). It has been a part of the overall disinvestment in America’s public schools.
We’re told by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and others, that schools should ensure clean air during Covid-19. There’s a disconnect between those who talk about coronavirus safety who work outside of schools and those who work in schools. Those writing these recommendations, no matter how well-meaning, don’t understand the reality school officials and teachers face.
They don’t seem to remember that bad air quality leading to asthma and allergies has been a longtime problem for children in school. It has been the source of learning difficulties. It’s hard to learn to read when you don’t feel well.
Why didn’t the leaders of the richest nation in the world improve the air quality in public schools before the coronavirus?
Remember when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said not to invest in buildings?
If we really want to help students, then we need to focus everything about education on individual students – funding, supporting and investing in them. Not in buildings; not in systems.
This was her way of pushing an end to public education. The crummier the buildings, the more parents would demand choice to online charters sold as better, even if they’re not. The sooner public schools and the teaching profession would collapse.
How can school officials fix ventilation systems during a pandemic? How do maintenance workers continually replace air filters to keep children and teachers safe during the coronavirus?
The EPA provides guidelines for what healthy air quality should be during Covid-19.
Last year they reported their concern about school air quality. These concerns involved half the schools in the country!
In 2014, the National Center for Educations Statistics surveyed a sample of school districts and estimated that the average age of the nation’s main school buildings was 55 years old – putting the average date of construction for our nation’s schools at 1959. Additionally. nearly one-fourth of the nation’s schools have one or more buildings in need of extensive repair or replacement and nearly half have been reported to have problems related to indoor air quality (IAQ).
They provided a toolkit to improve air quality, but it’s anyone’s guess how many schools addressed clean air quality.
Indoor levels of air pollutants can be two to five times higher, and occasionally 100 times higher, than outdoor levels. Nearly 56 million people, approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population, spend their days inside elementary and secondary schools. In 1999, the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education reported that approximately 25 percent of public schools described unsatisfactory ventilation, while 20 percent of schools told of unsatisfactory IAQ. IAQ problems can cause discomfort and contribute to short- and long-term health problems for students and staff.
Even modern schools have had trouble with maintenance upkeep. School districts struggle to build schools and they face difficulties with deferred maintenance, pushing maintenance aside to spend funds on more critical needs.
Parents of children attending private or parochial schools should be concerned about air quality too. Who’s guaranteeing the air in those buildings is fresh?
And charter schools? Those schools are often set up in old vacant buildings, or shopping malls, with little regulation.
What’s sad is that children haven’t been sitting in lousy classrooms because Americans couldn’t pay for it. They’ve been breathing unhealthy air because the politicians and policymakers permitted it! This country had leaders who cared more about seeing that education became a means to make a profit instead of for the social good.
They signed onto an ideological for-profit agenda that went so far as to dismiss the health of students and teachers in order to end public education.
School facilities including the air students breath, have always been critical to learning and the health of students. This virus is revealing how badly Americans have ignored public school buildings for students.
If we really want to reimagine schools, let’s hope there’s a new initiative to improve public school building safety. Americans must invest in public education and the buildings where children are housed.
In the meantime, it seems like risky business to rely on the air in any school to keep students and teachers safe during Covid-19.