CT schools need clean air and working HVAC systems
Summer is coming to an end. For millions of children across America, that means it’s time to start thinking about school. When you think of school, what do you remember? Maybe you remember your friends, your favorite teachers or your favorite subjects. Or do you think of mold growing on your desk, excessive heat shutting down your school, and poor ventilation promoting the spread of viruses like Covid-19? The latter is a reality for hundreds of children in Connecticut.
In August 2021, teachers at Fair Haven School in New Haven prepared for the school year by scraping mold on the furniture in their classrooms. They did this to combat problems caused by faulty heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
Mold in New Haven classrooms is only part of a much larger problem facing Connecticut schools. Connecticut Department of Administrative Services School Facilities Survey Summary Report found that 53% of schools use HVAC systems and boilers that have already exceeded the expected life of the equipment. Improper HVAC systems increase the prevalence of hazardous substances like mold and viruses in the air.
Every child has the right to an accessible and quality education. Part of that is having a safe place to learn. Poor indoor air quality violates this right by creating an unsafe school environment.
In the last two sessions of the state legislature, lawmakers have proposed An Act to improve indoor air quality in public school classrooms, a bill that would set temperature and humidity limits in schools while funding the installation and maintenance of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Unfortunately, this bill failed both times.
Katarina Tomaševski, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, established a four-part guide to understanding the right to education in practice. Two of them, availability and acceptability, directly indicate that school infrastructure and safety are important features in giving meaning to the right to education. Education must be available, which means that adequate infrastructure and teachers are available to support the delivery of education. Likewise, education must be acceptable – schools must be a safe space for all children.
So when a lack of proper HVAC systems creates an environment that causes teachers to miss school, children to face respiratory illnesses, and schools to close due to extreme heat, it’s clear that children do not see their right to education fully respected.
In 2019, musty conditions at Westhill High School, a school in Stamford, were so damaging that educator Ruth-Terry Walden was ordered to stay home by her doctor until she could recover. recover from damaged health. Although Walden noted that the issue improved in the fall, she said it was “far from completely resolved.”
Not only are teachers’ health at risk, but teachers are being forced to put in the extra work to ensure their students can do something as basic as breathing safely. The New Haven Mold Incident has been the result of a combination of humid air and an HVAC system that had “[aged] to the point where they are difficult to maintain” has led to mold infestation.
Fair Haven isn’t the only school that hasn’t fixed its deteriorating systems. In Connecticut, 31% of school districts do not have reasonable funding to repair and replace such equipment. Additionally, 39% of districts did not approve sufficient funding to carry out an IAQ program at each annual council budget and city appropriation.
The National Weather Service identifies a heat index of 90°F or more as a significant health risk. When subjected to such temperatures, children are particularly susceptible to dehydration and heat-related illnesses. Don Williams, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, says temperatures in school buildings currently exceed 90°F, sometimes exceeding 100°F. These high temperatures have led several Connecticut school districts to close and dismiss students earlier. After having several HVAC outages, Guilford Public Schools decided to close, unable to handle the high heat.
There are indoor air temperature regulations in Connecticut – for kennels for dogs, not the schools. Commercial kennels must “minimize odors, ammonia levels, risk of disease transmission and unnecessary stress” and provide HVAC systems capable of maintaining temperatures between 55°F and 80°F. Why are children allowed to endure conditions unacceptable to animals?
Reintroduce and pass the An Act to improve indoor air quality in public school classrooms in the next legislative session would be a crucial step in protecting the availability and accessibility of education in Connecticut and, therefore, the health and human rights of Connecticut schoolchildren.
Additionally, ongoing maintenance of HVAC systems is actually the more cost-effective option compared to simply letting the equipment break down. Without proper attention to maintain HVAC systems, buildings could reach the point of requiring demolition. When students miss class and teachers have to take time off work, more time and effort must be spent hiring substitutes and catching up with students. Raising these ventilation rates increases energy and capital costs, but the net annual cost ends up being less than 0.1% of typical spending on public primary and secondary education in the country – a small price to pay. for Connecticut Student Health and Education.
Some may argue that funding issues mean that only poor districts fail to provide safe environments for their students, but it is crucial to realize that indoor air quality issues affect districts from all economic backgrounds. . Comparing Connecticut’s per-mile rates with data from school facility survey responses, little or no relationship is found between each district’s tax rates and whether an indoor air quality program is sufficiently funded. This is seen in Hartford, where the mill rate is highest, but its schools do not have sufficient approved funds to carry out an indoor air quality program.
Parents need to be able to be sure that the air their children breathe every day at school will not put them at risk. Teachers shouldn’t have to scrape preventable mold from furniture. This is a problem that can and must be solved. It’s time to make classroom air protection a law to ensure that Connecticut’s youth’s right to an education is fully realized.
Maya Feron, Christine Lee, Brooke Mahany and Shelby Parker are high school students at Wellington High School, Phillips Academy, Onslow Early College and Dalton McMichael High School respectively. All four attend the Young Scholars Senior Summit program at the University of Connecticut.