CNN Spotlights Indoor Air Quality Impact on Student Learning

An estimated 14 million American children attend public schools that are in urgent need of  extensive repair or replacement and have unhealthy environmental conditions, including poor air quality, unsafe drinking water and inadequate safety systems. This weekend, CNN will spotlight the dire condition of schools and the health hazards posed by poor indoor air quality.

The segment, which will air on Saturday and Sunday, follows CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta as he visits schools in Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut to examine the impact of indoor air quality on students and school employees. During his travels, Dr. Gupta spoke to NEA members and leaders, including National Education Association Vice President Lily Eskelsen, who called the poor condition of schools a “national crisis” and emphasized how the ability of many students to learn depends on a safe and healthy school environment.

NEA and its members are urging Congress to pass President Obama’s Fix America’s Schools Today Act, which would provide $25 billion for modernizing and repairing public schools, with half of the funds funneled to schools that need it most.

Southern Middle in Reading, Pennsylvania is one of those schools. Now more than 90 years old, Southern Middle has leaky roofs throughout the building, causing tiles to fall out of the drop ceilings. Wires are exposed, paint is bubbled and chipped, and pieces of plaster fall from the ceiling and walls. Toxins from the paint and plaster particulates as well as mold spores from the water damage circulate through an ancient HVAC system and into the air.

“At one point I had a waterfall cascading into a light fixture in the ceiling,” Christopher Meyer says. “Kids were sitting in puddles in metal chairs as water hit exposed wires. They were like individual lightening rods. You can’t get any more dangerous than that.”

Meyer, a seventh grade social studies teacher and NEA member, showed the abysmal state of his classroom to Gupta, Eskelsen, and NEA Health Information Network Director Jerry Newberry during American Education Week in November.

“Poor indoor environmental quality contributes to serious health problems for students and staff, including asthma, allergic reactions, fatigue, headaches and respiratory tract infections,” says Newberry. “This causes high rates of absenteeism, and dramatically decreases the ability to concentrate and learn when students actually do make it class.”

“It matters that all kids go to school that is healthy, that’s good for them,” Eskelsen told Gupta. “We need to talk about curriculum, books, technology, all of those things – yes. But if you put them in a building where kids are getting asthma, what have you done?”

CNN’s report on indoor air quality in schools airs on Saturday, January 14 at 8 p.m., 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. ET.  The program will re-air again at the same times on Sunday, January 15.

Take Action: Tell Congress to support the Fix America’s Schools Today (FAST) Act.