By Rochelle Davis, President and CEO
Earlier this month, the EPA released its voluntary School Siting Guidelines [pdf] which are intended to help communities make the best possible decisions when it comes to determining where a school should be built. I applaud the EPA for developing these guidelines and providing a tool that will help ensure the safety of children and staff.
As a member of the EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC) School Siting Task Group, which was assembled by the EPA to provide input on the school siting guidelines, I was happy to see that the final guidelines address many of the concerns originally expressed by our task group and take into consideration the comments that were submitted from people around the country during the open comment period.
The release of the new guidelines is the first time the federal government has taken steps toward preventing schools from being built on contaminated land.
The document provides detailed guidance on a number of topics including how to assess potential sites for schools and how to identify environmental issues that might pose a threat to student and staff health. We were especially excited to see that the guidelines also recognize the importance of engaging the entire school community in school siting decisions and call for “meaningful public participation” from school stakeholder groups such as parents, teachers, school personnel and nearby residents.
The EPA has identified four underlying principles that serve as the foundation for these guidelines and demonstrate the EPA’s commitment to supporting educational outcomes and protecting the health of the entire school community. The four principles are:
- Safe and healthy school environments are integral components of the education process;
- The environmental review process should be rigorous, thorough, well documented and include substantive and ongoing, meaningful public involvement;
- Schools should be located in environments that contribute to the livability, sustainability and public health of neighborhoods and communities; and
- The school siting process should consider the environmental health and safety of the entire community, including disadvantaged and underserved populations.
These guidelines provide a great foundation for helping communities make school siting decisions that protect the health of students, staff and the school community. I commend the EPA for their hard work and look forward to sharing this resource with HSC’s stakeholders.