Protecting low-income children in SF’s public schools from exposures to environmental hazards

boy in class picture

boy in class picture HCOP is working to improve indoor air quality and prevent children's exposure to toxins in San Francisco public schools. Most schools in San Francisco are old. The District has approximately 120 separate school sites [the number is diminishing as the District closes underutilized facilities in response to budget needs]. It is a very large operation. Many of the schools are deteriorating, contain poor indoor air quality and need substantial modernization and renovation work. The schools are full of environmental toxins, including lead, asbestos, solvents, cleansers, and toxic building materials and furnishings. Almost 58,000 thousand children attend public schools in San Francisco. Ninety percent are non-white, lower and middle-income children. In addition, the District operates a state subsidized child development program for over 1,400 low-income, primarily minority children pre-kindergarteners [most are 3 1/2 through 4 years old]. Their classrooms are mainly in elementary school facilities, where they spend up to 11 hours a day for 12 months of the year [no summer vacations].

Requiring the District to use high performance school design guidelines. The City's voters passed a $295,000,000 bond in 2003 to pay for the district's efforts to begin making facilities accessible to the handicapped pursuant to a court settlement. The bond funds will cover only one-quarter of the schools involved, about 30 out of 120. HCOP anticipated the bond proposal's approval by sponsoring a resolution [Resolution] passed by the Board of Education and agreed to by the District requiring the use "High Performance Schools Design Guidelines" when renovating and "modernizing" any school facility. These design guidelines promote good indoor air quality and the use of the least toxic building materials along with other measures that improve the health, learning and teaching environment. HCOP wants to ensure that the District and its design teams support better performance in the classroom by using every opportunity possible to design learning environments that are healthy, comfortable, toxin-safe and resource efficient.

HCOP organized support for the Resolution from other community-based organizations, parents groups, the teachers' union and school staff. In addition, we recruited several outside agencies who are experts in applying these guidelines to support our efforts, including: the Collaboration for High Performance Schools, the San Francisco Department of Environment, the State's Architect Office's program for designing sustainable schools and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The Board appointed an advisory committee to aid the District in fully implementing these guidelines. The membership includes HCOP's director and representatives from all of the other outside agencies recruited by HCOP to help in this effort. See another discussion of our efforts with the School District in the "Our History of Success" section of this site.

If you are interested in passing similar measures in your school district, click here to download a copy of the school board resolution requiring the district to use high performance design guidelines. Unfortunately, the District's "renovation" high performance school design guidelines are not on its website. Only a few printed copies were made and they are not available to the public.

Requiring full implementation of Board of Education's indoor air quality policy [Plan]. In 1998 HCOP sponsored a Board of Education resolution, prepared with help of the local USEPA office, requiring that the District implement an Indoor Air Quality Plan for its schools. The resolution passed but the District has not fully implemented the Plan. HCOP recently convinced the citywide Asthma Task Force to recommend full implementation of that Plan and HCOP is currently participating in that effort. See the discussion regarding the purchase of Environmentally Preferred Products and full implementation of the School Board approved Tools 4 Schools program developed by the US EPA at the History of Our Success section of this site.

Engaging parents, students and teachers in HCOP's "healthy schools" effort. HCOP is exploring having environment and science teachers in San Francisco public schools create "Green Squad" projects for students to learn about and assess the environmental conditions in their schools and report their findings to the Board of Education. The Center for Environmental Health and Justice has created programs for students and teachers to use. HCOP is working with Parents Advocating for Youth, Parents for Public Schools, and the United Educators of San Francisco to organize and mobilize parents' and teachers' support for these efforts. We hope the Green Squad program will help expand environmental health awareness throughout the District and increase the likelihood that students, staff and parents will demand environmentally healthy schools.

Check out the following website to learn how students can investigate their school environments to make them safe:

The Green Flag Program is a new project of the national Child Proofing Our Communities Campaign, coordinated by the Center for Health Environment and Justice. The Green Flag Program helps schools become healthier places for kids, and teaches students about the school's environment. In the program, parents, teachers, and kids work together to investigate environmental issues in a school, identify problems, create solutions, and improve the school's environment.

To learn more about protecting young children from environmental hazards in schools, visit these websites:

The Child Proofing Our Communities Campaign is coordinated by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), a national environmental organization.

Healthy Schools Network, Inc. (HSN) is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to assuring every child and school employee learns and works in an environmentally safe school.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Healthy School Environments web page is intended to serve as a portal to online resources to help parents, teachers, and school administrators address environmental health issues in schools.

The EPA launched the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Design Tools for Schools web site: This web-based resource contains recommendations and tools to help communities and design professionals integrate good indoor air quality practices into the design, construction, renovation, and operation and maintenance of K-12 school facilities. Practical, cost-effective actions ranging from walk-off entry mats to advanced ventilation systems can reduce contaminants in schools and help protect the health of children and staff.

The EPA has also created a set of high performance school design guidelines specifically for indoor air quality.

The Collaborative for High Performance Schools has developed a set of high performance school guidelines that includes improving indoor air quality in schools and using less toxic building materials in the construction and renovation of those schools.

The California Division of State Architect's website features a section on sustainable schools. This website provides a diverse collection of sustainable building resources, including the numerous benefits from using them, as well as guidelines, programs, case studies, relevant publications, funding options/incentives, and more. The site is geared toward those interested and involved in designing, developing, and constructing high performance schools, such as school administrators and board officials, developers, architects, planners, researchers, teachers, parents, and others.

key to access login form