With my five year old son Gus starting Kindergarten this week, I went through a mental checklist to make sure he has everything he needs (school supplies – check. Lunchbox filled with healthy food – check. Afterschool program confirmed to pick him up – check. His hair combed in the morning – well, maybe tomorrow). With the critical stuff out of the way, I started to think about other things he needs to learn in a safe, healthy environment. Here are a few tips I came up with.
Getting your kid to school. Obviously, if you’re able, walking, biking or carpooling your kiddo to school are fun ways to lower your carbon footprint. If your child rides the bus, ask your school district what they’re doing to protect children’s health from diesel exhaust. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 38,000 yellow school buses transport an estimated 1.4 million school children to and from school in Texas. With more than 95 percent of school buses diesel-powered, the average child riding a bus 30 minutes each direction will be exposed to diesel engine exhaust for a minimum of approximately 180 hours each year. Diesel exhaust contains known carcinogens and can exacerbate health problems like asthma.
The Texas Clean School Bus Program provides “grant funding to retrofit school buses with diesel particulate filters and/or crank case ventilation systems”. Unfortunately, according to the Texas PTA, the Legislature eliminated funding for the program this past session. However, there may be federal or private funding available to help your school district green its fleet.
Idling buses can also cause health problems. In 2007, the Legislature passed a ban on idling buses, but Governor Perry maddeningly vetoed the bill. However, your school district might have its own no-idling policy (or might start one with your encouragement). Don’t forget to limit your own car’s idling.
Clean Air in the Classroom. According to the group Beyond Pesticides, of the 40 most commonly used pesticides in schools, “28 can cause cancer, 14 are linked to endocrine disruption, 26 can adversely affect reproduction, 26 are nervous system poisons and 13 can cause birth defects.” However, Texas is one of fifteen states to require least toxic methods (known as “integrated pest management” or IPM) at schools. In addition, Texas law requires:
- Posting Signs: Schools should post a sign 48 hours prior to application inside the school and at the time of application outside
- Prior Notification: Parents can sign up on registry to be notified in advance of pesticide application
- Prohibition of Use: Pesticides are grouped into lists based on risk. No application while students present. Green Category Pesticides: 10 foot distance from application area; Yellow Category: 10-foot distance & minimum 4 hour reentry interval; Red Category: 25-foot distance, minimum 8 hour reentry interval
Find out who the IPM coordinator is at your school, sign up for the registry, and report any non-compliance with the law to the school district.
Green Schools. Use of natural light and other green building techniques not only can save energy and water, but can also boost the performance of your child in the classroom. For example, according to the State Energy Conservation Office, “school sustainable design studies have demonstrated that students benefit significantly from attending schools where daylight, rather than traditional artificial lighting, was the principal source of internal lighting…both in terms of increased performance (as measured by test scores) and general health and well being.” Encourage your school district to apply for funding from the Texas LOAN Star program to retrofit your school.
Finally, the Green Schools Initiative has some other handy tips for parents. Check them out here.
Have a great school year (and don’t forget to comb your kid’s hair)!