Ideally, schools should have district-wide wellness policies in place that promote an asthma-friendly environment. However, it is important to look at both practices and policies as important strategies that can work together to build a healthy school environment. For example, a teacher who uses green cleaners and does not allow bleach wipes in his/her classroom represents a good practice, or activity. A school-wide policy that requires the use of green cleaners everywhere is even better.
How to start with policy
The most effective and long-lasting way to create an asthma-friendly school environment is by understanding where you have the support or will to establish a policy. Once you have identified a policy issue that you want to work on, use the resources in this toolkit for specific policy guidance and examples for each area. In forming any policy, consider including:
The reason for the policy (what the problem is, and how the policy can improve health and school performance)
A clear statement of what the policy is, what it requires, and roles and responsibilities
A plan for how the policy will be communicated to the school community and how it will be implemented and enforced
How the policy will be followed and evaluated to make sure it is working
A section on how the policy will be evaluated
Another option is to expand your school’s existing wellness policy. Each school/district in Massachusetts is required to have a wellness policy. You could add a new piece to the policy — a healthy and safe school environment component — to address green cleaning, vehicle idling, tobacco use, fragrance use, and other asthma-friendly topics.
If your school or district already has policies in place, it is important to make sure they are being followed. A policy is only as good as the practices behind it! If you have a district or school-wide policy that is not being followed, work with people in the school and make them aware of the policy, its value, and how to follow it. For example, if teachers and staff are not aware of the integrated pest management (IPM) log, sharing that information and the importance of an IPM log can make the policy more effective.
How to start with practices
If changing or adopting policies do not feel like a realistic option, consider district-wide or school-wide practices that will still have an impact. For example, maybe the custodians in one school could ‘pilot’ the use of green cleaners, or a group of kindergarten teachers could try using wipeable mats instead of reading rugs that collect dust. Once practices become more common and people understand them, it will be easier to create and promote a wider policy.
You can start small. Here are some ideas:
Organize a “clean out” day. Environmental walk-through or classroom checklist data can show you which areas of the school or classroom need to be cleaned and de-cluttered. Organize your team, including parents, teachers, and other community volunteers to spend a morning or afternoon cleaning out old supplies, papers, etc.
Change cleaning practices on a small scale. Meet with one or two teachers to help them plan to reduce the use of bleach wipes in their classroom. Simply use a Green Seal or EcoLogo-approved general cleaning product. Suggest other green options, and share this fact sheet about bleach and asthma. Remember, cleaning does not always have to include using disinfectants.
Discourage pests. Children often eat breakfast or snacks in their classroom. Pick one or two classrooms, and assess where children eat and where there are crumbs. If students are eating on a rug/carpet, work with the teacher to see if they could eat at tables. This makes it easier to clean up crumbs and makes it a less attractive place for pests. Any food in the classroom should also be stored in sealed containers so pests cannot get to it and come back for more.