NYSUT is promoting and partnering with Clean, Green and Healthy Schools, a program of the state Department of Health, to help members access resources to improve their school environments. The idea behind the program, which will be presented today at NYSUT’s Health and Safety Committee meeting, is to help focus action plans on troubling situations that may seem overwhelming to take on, and to take preventive steps in major areas of school environmental health.
“This provides a checklist, assessments and a road map for how to start functioning around these issues,” said Veronica Foley, NYSUT health and safety specialist. Her goal is to get this guide into the hands of union members serving on school health and safety committees across New York.
While each school is required by law to have such a committee, she said they often do not meet with any regularity, and members sometimes do not know where to begin in order to address problems.
“We need to use what we already have. Regulations are not being utilized,” she said.
Pest management, energy conservation, healthy water supplies, chemical hazards, mold, and construction are some of the primary health and safety areas that affect school health — which in turn affects student health, absenteeism, and educator health and retention.
Green cleaning is a basic way to provide cleaner environments, and NYSUT long advocated for the passage of the state’s "green cleaning" bill that requires all schools to use environmentally sensitive cleaning and maintenance products. The DOH program helps the health and safety committees look beyond healthier cleaning options and at the host of elements involved in healthy schools.
Adults aren’t the only ones raising alarms. Students are becoming more outspoken about their concerns with the environment, and that includes the buildings and grounds of schools where they spend so much time in class and in after-school activities.
“We encourage schools to involve their students in the CGHSP through classroom activities, environmental clubs and other creative ways,” said Michele Herdt, director of the state’s Clean Green Healthy Schools Program. The program website has resources for students and educators covering a range of job titles.
Schools that participate in the CGHSP will be provided resources, including information on grants.
Clean, Green and Healthy Schools
Need help getting started? The state Department of Health offers a resource guide that outlines a nine-point layout of key concerns:
- Indoor air quality
- Energy and resource conservation
- Integrated pest management
- Chemical and environmental hazards
- Cleaning and maintenance
- Water quality