What School Administrators Should Know to Address Parents’ Concern about their Children’s Safety in School
Beyond providing quality education, schools have a responsibility to provide a healthy school environment for the students. Parents have the legal right to demand accountability for the safety and health of their children while in school. With the coronavirus pandemic, parents are struggling because they do not have the peace of mind that the school will be a safe environment for their children to return to. As schools reopen around the world, its officials need to have a thorough understanding of the risks involved in the exposure and transmission of the coronavirus and what parents need to know about the school’s indoor environmental quality.
Risk of Virus Exposure and Transmission
Due to close contact in classrooms, poor hygiene among students, and poor air quality, schools may be more susceptible to outbreaks of infectious diseases like influenza, meningitis, measles, and hepatitis B. Studies on coronavirus outbreak in schools have not been conclusive, though, mostly because the majority of the students who get infected do not develop or exhibit symptoms. Those who are symptomatic, however, are likely to pass on the virus to their peers, teachers, or their families at home.
Research also shows that children are more vulnerable to the ill effects of indoor air pollution than adults – from allergies to asthma and viral infections. As infections do tend to occur and spread rapidly, it is important for school administrators to be aware of the environmental factors that are likely to contribute to the survival and transmission of hazardous pathogens so that they can prevent an outbreak from happening, or swiftly mitigate the spread of the disease.
Various Causes of Poor IAQ in Schools
Indoor air pollution is invisible. It is important to identify and monitor the causes of poor IAQ in schools to be able to improve the air quality conditions and create a healthy school environment. Listed below are some potential causes.
- HVAC system – Mold growth in drip pans, ductwork, coils, and humidifiers
- Contaminated outdoor air – Pollen, dust, and mold spores, exhaust from cars and school buses
- Building materials, equipment, and furnishings – Molds in damaged materials or in between walls, damaged asbestos or materials containing VOCs, formaldehyde
- Maintenance practices – Chemicals from cleaning equipment, pesticides, stored lawn and garden equipment
- Activities from students, teachers, and other school staff – Science lab and art supplies, emissions from printing machines and food preparation areas, VOCs from chalk, paint, and adhesives, students with communicable diseases
Plan, Lead, Organize, and Control: A School Administrator’s Strategic Guide
With limited resources, it is particularly challenging for school administrators to manage indoor air quality while responding to reasonably anxious parents who need to be reassured that their children are safe.
Here are some tips on how to effectively manage parents’ concern about IAQ in the school:
1. Develop a response guide for parents’ questions.
It is important to know your students and their needs. A thorough and comprehensive database of students, with their health and medical history, that is regularly updated, will help identify, monitor and keep track. The guidelines and information that you communicate to parents will be specific responses to what they will most likely ask.
2. Remove indoor air pollution sources
Ensure a healthy indoor environment by making sure that pollutant sources are managed such as replacing or cleaning the HVAC system, removing damaged carpets and other building materials, removing existing lead paint, reducing the use of pesticides, and controlling infestations through good housekeeping and repair. Monitoring classrooms and other spaces in the school can provide valuable information in identifying the sources of these pollutants so that you can effectively eliminate them.
3. Have an indoor air quality plan
Aside from adopting specific measures to reduce the transmission of the virus such as social distancing, frequent hand washing, and using face masks, having a proactive IAQ plan means understanding the quality of air that your students and staff are breathing in school, taking control of air issues, and resolving them to prevent negative impact to their health and well-being. A plan that establishes IAQ performance goals and the specific courses of action based on data is also necessary for long-term planning and optimizing resources in your school.
Adopting technology solutions into your IAQ plan to simplify the process of measuring air quality and speeds up response time when issues arise. Indoor air quality monitoring devices that can measure a comprehensive list of factors can help to determine if your environment is conducive for the coronavirus to survive. Some smart IAQ monitors can also integrate into the HVAC system to help your facility team manage and control the school environment more effectively.
4. Communicate your plan with school staff, parents, and guardians.
Regularly sharing updates that include real-time data with your employees, parents, and guardians helps them achieve peace of mind because it would address the majority of their concerns on virus survival and transmission. Incorporating communication in your indoor air quality management plans would help to (1) correct any inaccurate information, (2) share actions taken by the school administration, (3) provide information about additional safety precautions in place, and (4) stress the importance of student and staff well-being and safety
The number one priority should always be to ensure student health and safety. With effective monitoring and management, the risks of outbreaks will be much lower, the expense of damage control reduced, and parents will trust the school to protect their children.