Mayor & Chancellor
Asked To Move On Healthy Schools
by Assemblyman Steven Sanders
State Assembly over the past several years, working with the
Healthy Schools Network of New York State, has initiated important
measures to keep children safe in school. In the area of violence
prevention and physical security, New York State has made great
strides. But children’s health and well-being, of course, requires
not only that a school building and grounds be safe and secure
from the standpoint of crime, violence or drugs, but also from
the vantage point of making sure that schools themselves are
environmentally safe, from the materials used in construction
to the cleaning agents used by janitors; from hazardous substances
in soil and from contaminants in ventilation or air conditioning
am proud as Chairman of the Education Committee to have advanced
from my committee and shepherded passage on the floor of the
Assembly crucial pieces of legislation to keep school environments
healthy, so that our children (and staff and visitors) do not
fall ill from chemicals or materials that are known to cause
unpleasant symptoms or even put people’s health in serious
jeopardy. We have also passed bills requiring that parents
be informed of environmental hazards or threats at or near
the school. Regrettably, these bills remain stalled, time and
again, in the State Senate.
in New York City, though, with the Legislature having given
to the Mayor and the Chancellor direct control over the schools—including
the right to centralize purchasing—we have a perfect opportunity
for the City to unilaterally develop and implement guidelines
and policies to make our schools “healthy schools.” The Chancellor
need not wait for a State law compelling such actions.
last month, students at PS 124 in Queens fell ill from ammonia
vapors apparently when ammonia either spilled or interacted
with other chemical cleaning agents. While it appears that
the children quickly recovered, this is yet another warning
sign of the dangers—to children especially—of chemical-based
products for which there are readily available non-toxic and
equally effective alternatives. Moreover, the long-term exposure
of children to even low-level toxins is still unknown and worrisome.
I have asked Chancellor Klein, in consultation with the Commissioners
of Health and Environmental Protection, to promulgate clear
guidelines and specifications, including a list of environmentally
preferred products, to ensure that no toxic cleaning agents
are used at anytime in any of our 1200 public schools.These
regulations should apply and be reflected in every contract
with private janitorial services providers as well as to Department
of Education employees.
addition, I have proposed that the Department of Education
and the School Construction Authority also implement a policy
to ensure that only environmentally safe products and construction
materials are used either in the construction, repair or maintenance
of school buildings.
we are to truly put “Children First,” then preventing respiratory
problems, headaches, allergic reactions, nausea, asthma attacks,
and other incidents involving illness or even risk of fatalities,
must be our top priority. For children to succeed, to concentrate
and to achieve their full potential, an environmentally safe
school is no less important than a drug-free and violence-free
Sanders is Chairman of the Education Committee. You can e-mail
him at firstname.lastname@example.org or
phone him at (212) 979-9696. His mailing address is 201 East
16th Street, New York, NY 10003.
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