April 22, 2019

Earth Day: What are the effects of climate change on school environments?

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
earth day

Many environmental concerns are clamoring for attention on this year’s Earth Day.

Union health and safety activists are raising awareness about the effects of climate change on school environments, how to make buildings more resilient, and how to protect students and staff during extreme weather events, which are becoming more common.

NYSUT and American Federation of Teachers are sending their health and safety specialists to an AFT School-Related Professionals conference later this month to speak with custodial and maintenance workers about these issues.

“We want to get them to think about how these extreme weather events affect their jobs, if they've seen a change in how many events occur, and what kind of events are happening,” said Wendy Hord, NYSUT health and safety specialist. “Recent hurricanes, droughts and fires have raised awareness and attention.”

Concerns to be highlighted by union health and safety activists include:

  • The increasing energy demands in school buildings for air conditioning needs, which existing systems may not be able to meet.
  • An increase in extreme heat events, and the impact they have on school occupants/education.
  • Increased mold and moisture problems from heat and humidity that are not properly managed.
  • Increased tick/vector-borne illnesses and pest infestations.
  • The need for building and grounds employees to maintain landscaping in ways that reduce habitat.
  • School nurse awareness.
  • Personal protection.
  • The need for custodians and maintenance workers to get buildings back in shape in order to re-occupy them after weather events.
  • Increased stresses on aging buildings that have not had proper preventive maintenance that make the impact of weather events more negative.

“We want to talk about things for them to do to protect themselves from extreme heat or cold, ticks, insects, etcetera,” said Hord. “We also want to talk about how to look at their buildings and what can be done to make buildings more resilient.”