Indoor air quality in schools must be a priority

The health of students, teachers and staff in our schools depends in large part on the quality of the air they breathe. In Connecticut, unfortunately, many students and adults are at risk, and concerns extend far beyond the pandemic.

Hot temperatures, high humidity, mold and poor air quality adversely affect school health and performance. Even before the pandemic, sick schools were a problem. Today, the importance of air quality has never been more critical, especially in helping to prevent the spread of diseases such as childhood asthma and various respiratory problems that plague children and adults. Concerns about air quality have only intensified with the high infection rates of the COVID-19 delta variant.

Schools faced serious problems and were even forced to close due to the lack of air conditioning and classroom temperatures in the 80s and 90s. It is likely that in the future we will see more days of extreme heat, not less. These dangerous conditions make students and staff sick. Schools in all parts of the state are affected, but childhood asthma rates are highest in urban areas where schools often lack resources and are less likely to be air-conditioned.

Studies show that unhealthy air and hot temperatures have a domino effect leading to higher rates of illness for students and adults, increased absenteeism, and lower academic performance. A Harvard University study on excessive heat and lack of air conditioning concluded, “When the heat is turned on, student learning suffers. “


The Connecticut Education Association has always advocated that all public schools in the state have high quality cooling, heating, and air filtration systems. In a recent survey, 97 percent of teachers said ventilation and air quality were a top safety priority, but only 27 percent said this was taken into account in their school.

There is a simple solution to protect the health of the students and adults who spend hundreds of hours in our schools each year: fix the poor air handling systems that make our schools unsanitary.

Connecticut already offers some protection. State regulations require a minimum temperature of 65 degrees and a maximum of 78 degrees – for pet stores. “Animal housing needs to be properly ventilated to minimize drafts, foul odors and moisture condensation and to ensure the health and comfort of animals at all times. Believe it or not, there are no such regulations to protect the “health and comfort” of children and adults in schools.

In recent years, a barrier to upgrading schools – even just at the pet store level – has been cost. Some at the state level have been unwilling to expand the use of school building funds for something as necessary as fixing obsolete and harmful ventilation systems or air conditioning. That excuse was gone, however, with the massive influx of federal funds into Connecticut – $ 1.1 billion – for improvements, support and capital improvements in our schools. With a small fraction of federal education dollars, Connecticut has the resources to make every school healthier, safer, and available year-round, including for summer school and community uses.

It’s time to take action. Governor Lamont and the state’s Department of Education should prioritize federal funds for the installation or repair of air conditioning and improving air quality for all schools in need. SDE should coordinate with school districts and the Department of Administrative Services to ensure that all districts improve air quality. SDE should also use discretionary grant funds to help school districts that receive little or no federal funds to look after their air quality systems.

Connecticut has the means to repair and improve the overall health protections of every school. There is no excuse for leaving a school or community behind when it comes to air quality that promotes health and school performance. Currently, Connecticut provides more humane standards for pets in pet stores than we do for children and adults in schools. We can and must do better.

Donald Williams is executive director of the Connecticut Education Association.

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