Checking that your child’s school is a safe place to spend the day may involve looking at a number of issues: air quality, fire code compliance, policies on chemicals and hazardous waste, as well as pest control and chemical spraying of school grounds. Here are some questions to ask and resources to check for each of these topics.

[Download free checklist — PDF format]

Air Quality-General

According to the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) , parents, teachers and other school staff can use Indoor Air Quality — Tools for Schools to identify problem areas and develop remedial responses. A comprehensive Walkthrough Checklist is available at www.epa.gov/iaq/schools/toolkit.html

Among the questions the checklist suggests to be considered in a review of outdoor problem areas are:

  • On the ground:
  • Are ventilation units turned on and air flowing into outdoor air intakes?
  • Are outdoor air intakes free from blockage or obstruction (boards, leaves, vegetation, snow, etc.)?
  • No potential sources of air contamination in the vicinity of the building (chimneys, stacks, industrial plants, exhaust from nearby buildings)?
  • Do roof downspouts direct water away from building?
  • On the roof:

    Among the questions to be considered in a review of indoor problem areas are:

    As noted in the EPA Tools for School publication, a school walkthrough is “looking for noticeable temperature and humidity concerns, indications that the ventilation system is functioning, general cleanliness, evidence of pollutant sources including mold and mildew, anything which might impact the air indoors.”

    Resources:
    The EPA Indoor Air Quality web site is an excellent resource on a host of environmental issues that affect air quality. www.epa.gov/iaq/schools/index.html

    Another resource is provided by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. This web-based resource is managed by the National Institute of Building Sciences in Washington, DC. www.edfacilities.org
    Mold

    Mold contamination in schools has been associated with student and teacher illness and resulted in school closings. To avoid mold problems regular maintenance that keeps a building dry and well maintained is essential.

    Many of the same questions that are used for a School Air Quality Walkthrough may be used to check on conditions that contribute to a mold problem. Two key questions are:

    Resource:
    National Clearing House for Educational Facilities: Mold in Schools. References to Books and Other Media. www.edfacilities.org/rl/Mold.cfm
    Chemicals and Pesticides

    Integrated Pest Management policies are universally recommended to reduce the use of pesticides on school grounds and in school buildings. Parents concerned about children’s exposure to pesticides at school might ask the following two questions:

    Resources:

    Another helpful resource on integrated pest management in schools is provided by Beyond Pesticides: the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides. Reports are found on the web at www.beyondpesticides.org. California Safe Schools is a non-profit agency representing a coalition devoted to environmental health issues. The Los Angeles Unified School District IPM policy is posted on this site. www.calisafe.org/policy.html
    Fire Prevention

    Preventing fires and preparing for action in the event of a fire requires a multi-faceted strategy. Prevention involves proper storage of chemicals in science laboratories and avoiding overloaded electrical circuits in the shop room or in the computer lab. Preparing for safe exits of children in the event of fire requires fire drills as well as working fire doors and emergency lighting. Massachusetts has published a brief flyer highlighting key points on fire prevention at school. http://www.mass.gov/Eeops/docs/dfs/osfm/pubed/flyers/school_fire_prevention.pdf

    Some questions for parents to ask:

    Resource:
    For more information/resources on Fire Safety in Schools: National Clearing House Education Facilities: Fire Safety in Schools. www.edfacilities.org/rl/fire_safety.cfm

  • Is the roof in good repair?
  • Is their evidence of ponding?
  • Are the ventilation units on and air flowing into outdoor air intakes?
  • Are outdoor air intakes open, even at the minimum setting
  • Are exhaust fans operating and air flowing out?
  • Are air supply and exhaust vents free from barriers?
  • Are their signs of dampness or water damage?
  • Do children, their teachers or other school staff report any concerns or problems?
  • Have radon measurements been taken regularly?
  • If the building was built before 1980, is paint inside or outside free from peeling or flaking?
  • Are there persistent damp areas in the school building or signs of water damage?
  • Do children or teachers complain of ‘funny’ or unpleasant smells?
  • Are there pest problems at the school, particularly in the food storage and cafeteria areas?
  • What procedures are used to manage pest problems?
  • Are building exits locked or blocked?
  • Are there two exits out of every classroom
  • Have the sprinkler systems and the fire alarms been inspected annually?