Managing the School Environment
The school environment contributes to the health of students, teachers and other school staff. A healthy school building is one factor that contributes to student health, thinking and even how students perform in school. While a healthy school building is important for all, it’s more critical and can have even greater impacts on students and school staff who have asthma.
Unhealthy indoor and outdoor environments can contribute to increased asthma symptoms while children are at school. Exposures to allergens and irritants play a role in triggering asthma symptoms. These allergens and irritants are commonly found in schools and can affect attendance and performance, especially for children who have asthma.
Asthma triggers in schools
According to the EPA, our air indoors can have levels of air pollution ranging from two to five times higher than outdoor air. In addition, outdoor air quality can be adversely impacted as schools are often located in areas adjacent to freeways and other sites that are easy to access.
Schools commonly have poor ventilation and studies have shown that poor ventilation is associated with increased asthma symptoms, increased visits to the nurse’s office and greater absenteeism. While ventilation can be difficult and expensive to upgrade, there are some low-or no-cost actions that can improve air quality in schools, especially for those who have asthma.
Many Minnesota schools contract with private indoor air quality specialists who offer comprehensive environmental consulting, inspection and management services. These consultants work directly with schools to help manage our schools indoor air quality.
Learn more about:
- Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in Schools MDH's information on improving IAQ in Minnesota’s schools. Specific actions one can take to improve air quality in schools is provided for facility operators, school administrators, teachers, and parents.
- Managing Asthma in the School Environment EPA has resources with links to environmental topics to help manage asthma in school environments.
- EPA Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools: Preventive Maintenance Guidance Documents Download the guidance, checklists, model plan, and the value proposition worksheet.
Everyone has a role to play in making sure that the school environment is healthy for the members of that school community.
If you are teacher - there are low- or no-cost steps you can take in your classroom to improve the environment for children with asthma in your classroom.
- Keep it dry. Watch for signs of moisture that can allow mold growth. Report water damage in your room to the custodian. Be particularly watchful around water sources such as drinking fountains, sinks and water coolers. If you have plants, don’t overwater them. Clean up spills as soon as possible.
- Keep your room clean and clutter-free. Make sure that you use only school-approved cleaning products. Keep clutter down, as much as possible, to make it easier for surfaces to be cleaned and prevent build-up of dust and dirt that can harbor allergens.
- Keep it pest-free. Reduce or eliminate food storage in your classroom and if you need to store food, make sure food is stored in sealed containers.
- Keep it contaminant free. Do not bring in air fresheners, diffusers, essential oils or other scented products. These products release chemicals into the air to produce the odor or fragrance and people with asthma can be sensitive to these types of products. Consider implementing school or classroom policies to reduce contaminants include fragrance-free policies and no idle policies.
- Keep it well-ventilated. Air needs to keep moving in your classroom. Do not block air vents that supply air to your classroom.
- Keep it allergen-free. Fur or feathery classroom pets can bring in additional allergens that can be a trigger of asthma. Opt for a pet fish, a reptile such as a bearded dragon, or other types of classroom pets without fur or feathers.
Are you concerned about the quality of air in your local school? Learn 5 Ways to Protect the Air Quality in Your Child's School how to identify problems and solutions and find out what to do if an indoor air emergency occurs.
If you have a child who has asthma - you can take steps to make sure that air in your child’s school is safe and healthy for both children and adults
- Ask your child’s teacher about asthma triggers in the classroom. Dust, scents from cleaning supplies, pests and classroom pets can affect a child’s asthma. Reducing these asthma triggers can help reduce the likelihood of an asthma attack at school.
- While Minnesota’s Clean Indoor Air laws prohibit smoking in schools, work to ensure that all school grounds, facilities, vehicles and sponsored events are also tobacco-free.
- Minnesota Statute 13B.885 Diesel School Buses (Idling) Minnesota law requires all school bus operators to minimize, to the extent practical, the idling of diesel exhaust fumes from school bus engines.
- Minnesota Statute Clean Indoor Air Act Schools are considered to be a public place and the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act prohibits smoking in public places.MN §144.413 Subdivision2.
- Minnesota Statute 121A.30 Pesticide Application at Schools Parents ‘Right-to-Know’ Act – notification of application of pesticides at school.
- Videos about Indoor Air Quality in Schools – Explore the EPA IAQ Tools for Schools video collection.
- Schools for Health, Foundations for Student Success—How School Buildings Influence Student Health, Thinking and Performance (PDF) a report produced by the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The report is intended to serve as a evidence-based decision-making tool for key school stakeholders.