Step-by-step Approach to Creating an Asthma-friendly School
Asthma-friendly policies and practices aim to improve the overall air quality in and around the school. Having good indoor air quality requires a team approach to identify, prioritize, prevent, resolve, and monitor environmental health and safety issues.
Bring together a team. Start by gathering a diverse team – for example, a team that includes a parent, a custodian or facilities manager, administrator, and a nurse – to ensure that various perspectives and voices are heard and are part of decisions on how to create an asthma-friendly school environment.
Collect data via a “walk-through”. Data helps to understand which asthma triggers should be the focus. Conducting an environmental walk-through of a school provides data on which areas of the school need improvement and which asthma triggers exist in each of those areas.
Identify problem areas. The results of your walk-through — what you answered “yes” to, and the frequency or duration of the problem — will demonstrate what kinds of potential asthma triggers exist, and whether they are school-wide, systemic, or more isolated problems.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Indoor Air Quality Program (IAQP) can assist schools in assessing air quality through indoor air quality assessment. The program conducts assessments of public buildings to evaluate the ventilation system, determine the potential for microbial growth, and identify and locate the point sources of environmental concerns. Through these assessments, the IAQP can provide technical assistance regarding indoor air quality, water damage, mold remediation and other related indoor air quality issues in buildings. An indoor air quality evaluation can be helpful in identifying and prioritizing building-related concerns. (Note: It is important to know that the IAQP does not enforce state housing or building codes, and is not responsible for building issues that are the jurisdiction of a municipal health department or board of health.) Click here for more information, including how to request an indoor air quality assessment of your school visit.
Prioritize actions. Once problem areas have been identified, form a group that can put some asthma-friendly practices in place or inspire support in a new or enhanced policy. Then make a plan of action and prioritize your list:
If you want to address several problem areas at once, take the environmental health and safety management approach.
If you have identified a specific area to address, such as pests, go to the appropriate policy and practice area, such as integrated pest management.
Other considerations include:
What areas have you made some progress in already, and could benefit from improved practices or creating a policy?
What might be a very easy and manageable place to start? Is there a funding opportunity or a champion that could support a particular effort?
Create policies and/or practices that solve problems or prevent triggers. In each policy and practice area:
Use the example policies and policy guidance to help guide your own school or district policies — if setting policy is your goal.
Follow best practices to achieve a more asthma-friendly school environment, whether you implement a policy or not.
Funding might be a barrier, but it should not be a deterrent: No matter where are you starting from, it is very likely that you do not have any additional funding to devote to asthma-friendly policy or practice. You are not alone! A lack of funds, and/or a backlog of needed repairs, are common roadblocks to getting started. However, there are many things you can do to improve the school environment at little or no cost, or raise awareness and make the case for funding. Examples include educating staff and students about keeping air vents clear of clutter that may block airflow and also creating signage as a reminder; organizing a declutter day; and demonstrating how to make safe, homemade green cleaners at a parent night event – many other low-cost activities are highlighted throughout this toolkit.
Monitor the environment. Meet as a team after a pilot project has ended. Bring the team back together to assess what worked and what might need adjustment to make the practice easier or more effective. Share successes in order to expand these practices across the entire school.
Resources & Tools
Environmental Walk-through Checklists: A list of things to look for during a school walk-through; this tool includes space to jot down notes and observations, or visit the Bureau of Environmental Health’s The Massachusetts School Checklist for further information on conducting a school walk-through and a more in-depth Massachusetts-specific walk-through checklist.
School Indoor Air Quality Assessment Tool, Environmental Protection Agency: A mobile app that provides a “one-stop shop” for accessing guidance from EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Action Kit, including strategies for addressing ventilation, cleaning and maintenance, and environmental asthma triggers.
EPA Indoor Air Quality Assessment Tool App Overview: A one-pager overview of the Tools for Schools Mobile App. It describes the app and outlines components of the app along with screenshots.
How to do a Walk-through: Creating Asthma-friendly Schools Presentation: Simple PowerPoint slides with tips and prompts for what to look for and pay attention to during a walk-through.
School Walk-through Video Series, Northwest Clean Air Agency: A series of videos that shows you how to conduct a successful school walk-through from the beginning to end, including how to get started and next steps.