School-age children often spend up to a third of their day in school, but while they run, play and learn, hidden toxins and chemicals could be impairing their health and development. Schools are meant to help teach our children about the world around them, but they also have a duty to keep kids safe. In honor of National Poison Prevention Week (March 18–24, 2018), it’s important to keep in mind that poisons come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from environmental toxins to the chemicals used to clean the floors.

Janitorial Supplies

It takes a lot of work to keep a school building clean, but the cleaners and solvents used to keep people healthy can cause a variety of problems as well, ranging from headaches, nausea and dizziness to chronic issues like asthma. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an astounding 1 in 11 U.S. children have asthma, resulting in more than 10 million absent days from school.

Cleaning supplies, including air fresheners, rug cleaners and floor polishes, may contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and have been linked to respiratory problems. Recently, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted an evaluation of 21 school cleaning supplies and found that nearly 30 percent of them released at least one asthma-causing toxin into the air. Even common cleaners are capable of causing damage. For example, if cleaners containing ammonia and bleach are mixed they create chloramine gases that cause coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain.

It’s important to encourage the use of green cleaners to prevent germs and keep people healthy. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that being greener may improve overall student and teacher health, reduce absences, save money and even extend a facility’s lifespan.

The Air Around Us

 Green cleaning practices go a long way toward keeping us safer, but no amount of scrubbing can change the environment that children, teachers and other faculty find themselves in each day. Older schools, particularly those built prior to the mid-1970s, run the risk of containing lead and asbestos, which are both known to cause severe health problems, but are almost entirely avoidable.

Although there are regulations in place for schools that maintain their own water supplies, the vast majority are unregulated and are simply encouraged to perform voluntary testing. Children are estimated to absorb four to five times the lead as adults are, and lead poisoning may result in mental and developmental disabilities, anemia and hypertension.

Asbestos was used in hundreds of building materials throughout the early- and mid-20th century, and can be found in schools across the country. When materials containing asbestos incur wear and tear and, fibers are released into the air and, and once inhaled or ingested, can possibly result in one of several types of cancer called mesothelioma.

The air around a school is also capable of causing respiratory problems for children and teachers. A recent investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity suggested that nearly 8,000 schools currently sit fewer than 500 feet away from a major roadway, exposing children to a wide array of carcinogens capable of causing asthma attacks, weak lung growth, and hamper a child’s ability to learn.

Toxic School Supplies

 We tend not to think about the items our children use in schools as dangerous, but crayons, glues, and even lunch boxes can contain chemicals. For example, some dry-erase markers contain methyl isobutyl ketone, a solvent capable of causing dizziness, nausea and headaches. Newer markers contain a much safer alcohol-based formula.

Other everyday items found in schools, like backpacks and lunch pails, could contain phthalates, which are used to make plastics softer, but have been linked to dangers including early onset puberty, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even cancer development. For parents interested in avoiding vinyl and PVC products, they can purchase items that are made without phthalates and look for recycling symbols alerting customers of PVC.

Parents concerned about their child’s school and art supplies should look for products with the phrase “conforms to ASTM D 4236” or labels from the Art and Creative Materials Institute. These products meet federal regulations and are labeled with messages about any health hazards they may cause.

What Does The Future Look Like?

 The truth is that no matter how hard we try to control for every chemical and toxin, everyone is still going to be exposed to them in some amount throughout the course of their lives. With that said, there are plenty of things we can do to limit exposure to these toxins.

Green cleaners and safer practices will help reduce cases of asthma, while taking a more conscious approach to school shopping can keep PVC items and phthalates out of the classroom. Our environments can also be kept safer by improving air quality through the use of air-cleaning plants, more efficient air purifying systems and by voluntarily testing water for harmful contaminants.

In many cases, chemical exposure is almost entirely avoidable by simply being more mindful of the products they use and the environment they’re learning in. Taking a few small steps today can ensure our kids have a bright and healthy, future.


Emily Walsh is the Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance (MCA) where her advocacy work helps people become aware of what toxins they are exposed to and how to make simple changes for a healthier life. Emily’s main focus is spreading the word about asbestos to all vulnerable communities to make sure they are aware of the material’s potential health impacts. You can follow MCA on Facebook or Twitter

Earlier this week, I had the amazing opportunity to speak at the National PTA Legislative Conference in Arlington, Virginia. I was invited to speak during the opening session with U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

The attendees gathered were state PTA representatives from every state in the country. The theme of this year’s conference was to “Get in the Game”, to inspire advocates into action.

The PTA has touched my heart in a deep way. The PTA is made up of parents and educators who volunteer their time for the sole purpose of benefiting the youth in our communities. These are the real change-makers!  I was honored to share with them my own personal journey from a stay-at-home mom to a school safety advocate. It was never a path that I anticipated or would think to take, but our lives have a strange way of changing course when we least expect it.

Over the last couple of months, I have seen a major shift in the conversation surrounding school safety. Communities are ready to take actions to ensure that tragedies like Sandy Hook and Parkland don’t happen again. Our goal as an organization is to help educate school communities in how to get started today. Change is possible. We can make schools safe when we work together.

Join the movement today. Begin the school safety assessment process by downloading our free Straight-A Safety Toolkits, launching a Safe and Sound Youth Council, or simply sharing our materials with your community. Together we can make our school safe and sound.


Alissa Parker
Mother of Emilie Parker
Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools

WILMINGTON, DE (Mar. 15, 2018) – A diverse group of parents, educators, emergency preparedness and industry groups released the following statement on today’s passage of H.R. 4909, the “STOP School Violence Act of 2018,” by the U.S. House of Representatives:

“We applaud Congress’ efforts to address the important issue of school and student safety. The House’s passage of the ‘STOP School Violence Act’ is one of many steps to fund school security improvements and invest in early intervention and prevention programs to stop school violence before it happens.

“The bill’s passage is encouraging and we are optimistic it will create the momentum and political urgency to deliver a final bill to President Trump.

“We urge the Senate to move swiftly and pass its version of legislation, S. 2495, to clear the way for enactment of a final bill. School districts and states should have maximum flexibility to meet the most critical needs of their schools including facility security. House and Senate leaders should work to achieve an equitable grant distribution that ensures schools can choose options under the bill that meet local needs, and limited funds first go to public schools.

“Educators and communities across the country are moving forward to address security deficiencies in their schools. Funding from Congress will help close those gaps faster.”

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Supporters:
Safe and Sound Schools, National School Boards Association (NSBA), National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM), National Council on School Facilities (NCSF), Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS), International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), Secure Schools Alliance (the Alliance), Security Industry Association (SIA), National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA), DHI Door Security + Safety Professionals (DHI), Door Safety and Security Foundation (DSSF), 21st Century School Fund (21CSF)

Media Contact:
Dan Nelson
Secure Schools Alliance
dnelson392000@yahoo.com

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Working with Secure Schools Alliance on shaping school safety recommendations

 

NEWTOWN, Conn. – March 5, 2018Safe and Sound Schools, a non-profit organization that delivers crisis-prevention, response, and recovery programs for schools to ensure safety, today announced its strong support for the Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018, introduced in the Senate on March 5, 2018. Safe and Sound Schools has been working with the Secure Schools Alliance to shape the school safety recommendations for this important legislation.

“Our focus has always been —and will remain— on school safety, and from our work throughout the country, we know schools desperately need the funding and attention to safety afforded by this bill,” said Michele Gay, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Safe and Sound Schools, and member of the board of directors of the Secure Schools Alliance. “Although school safety is a growing concern, our schools lack the resources and support to implement effective measures. While federal assistance alone could never fully address these needs, we feel this bill could make a major impact, and it’s an important first step in ensuring the safety of our nation’s school communities.”

The STOP Act answers a long overdue and nationwide need for school safety funding to provide critical infrastructure improvements, evidence-based education, training, and support, and modern-day security tools and technology that support comprehensive school safety. By reviving and significantly expanding grants through the U.S. Department of Justice, the STOP Act will greatly help schools struggling to implement critical safety programs and security measures, authorizing $100 million in funding per year through 2028. The bill also updates the program to help schools utilize the most effective technology, equipment, training programs and technical assistance that align with the unique needs of each school community.

Despite a critical lack of funding for and attention to school safety in recent years, Safe and Sound Schools has been working tirelessly and persistently in schools and professional communities across the nation to provide free tools, resources, education and training on crisis prevention, response and recovery. Safe and Sound Schools has joined with national experts, practitioners, survivors, and victims of school-based tragedies to offer programs and resources to enable every school and every community to develop its own solutions for comprehensive school safety. In less than five years, Safe and Sound Schools has reached every state in the nation and 13 countries. The organization understands it will take a truly layered approach to return our schools to safety, and the STOP Act is a critical step in that process.

For more information about Safe and Sound Schools, including its crisis-prevention, response, and recovery programs and resources for schools, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

About Safe and Sound Schools

Founded in 2013, Safe and Sound Schools works with school communities and mental health, law enforcement, and safety professionals to create and ensure the safest possible learning environment for all youth. The non-profit organization, started by parents who lost their children in the tragedy at Sandy Hook, delivers crisis-prevention, response, and recovery programs, tools, and resources, backed by national experts, to educate all members of the school community, from students and parents, to teachers and administrators, to law enforcement and local leaders. Winner of the 2015 SBANE New England Innovation Award for nonprofits, Safe and Sound Schools continues to answer the growing needs of school communities with custom programs, assessments, and training, reaching schools in nearly every state in the country. For more information, visit www.safeandsoundschools.org.

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[button link=”https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/STOP-School-Violence-Act-of-2018.pdf” color=”silver” newwindow=”yes”] Download the PDF[/button]

 

 

 

Dear Senator Hatch and Senator Klobuchar:

On behalf of Safe and Sound Schools, and our national community of schools, educators, parents, students, law enforcement officials, community members, mental health experts, and safety professionals, I would like to express our strong support for the Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018, introduced in the Senate.

I am the mother of Josephine Grace Gay, killed in her first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook School, and the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Safe and Sound Schools. Our group of parents, survivors, teachers, and community members founded Safe and Sound Schools after losing our children and beloved teachers in the Sandy Hook School tragedy. Since our founding, we have been joined by national experts, health and safety practitioners, health and mental health experts, leading law enforcement and public safety professionals, school leaders, parents, students, community members, survivors, and victims of school-based tragedies. Our focus has always been —and will always remain— on school safety.

Despite a critical lack of funding for and attention to school safety in recent years, we have been working tirelessly and persistently in schools and professional communities across the nation since our tragedy to provide free tools, resources, education and training. In less than five years, we have reached every state in the nation and thirteen countries.  We work with and alongside organizations such as The Secure Schools Alliance, The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools, the National Association of School Resource Officers, the National Association of School Psychologists, the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, Save the Children, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide a truly comprehensive approach to school safety that spans crisis prevention, response, and recovery.

Our schools desperately need this help.

The STOP Act answers a long overdue and nationwide need for school safety funding to provide critical infrastructure improvements, evidence-based education, training, and support, and modern-day security tools and technology that support comprehensive school safety. By reviving and significantly expanding grants through the U.S. Department of Justice, The STOP Act will greatly help schools struggling to implement critical safety programs and security measures, authorizing $100 million in funding per year through 2028. Such critically needed assistance has remained unavailable to our schools for far too long. The bill also updates the program to help schools utilize the most effective technology, equipment, training programs and technical assistance that align with the unique needs of each school community.

Sadly, our nation’s schools no longer represent a safe haven for our children and teachers. Instead, they represent targets for mass violence. We know this firsthand. We recognize that there will not be one single measure or action to solve the complex issues and factors that contribute to epidemic of mass violence. It will take many solutions and a truly layered approach to return our schools to safety. Therefore, we continue to advocate for a comprehensive approach to school safety and security in response to best prevent, respond to, and recover our school communities from such tragedies.

In our travels and work across the country, it is clear that ensuring safety has become an immediate and growing concern for students, parents, teachers, administrators and mental health and law enforcement professionals. Although progress has been made in identifying best practices and effective measures, our school communities struggle to implement these recommendations due to budget constraints, staffing challenges, aging facilities, and of course, educational priorities.

While federal assistance alone could never fully address these needs, it’s a start.

The STOP Act will save lives. Thank you for your thoughtful leadership in addressing the crisis facing our nation’s schools. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues in Congress to inform and support your efforts to restore our schools to safety.

Sincerely,
Michele Gay
Co-Founder/Executive Director
Safe and Sound Schools
(Joey’s mom)