7 Back to School Clean Air Tips for Classrooms

Going back to school will now be like never before as students go back into classrooms and face new challenges in learning safely and successfully.

Clean air is critical to helping prevent infections in classrooms – but clean air also has many benefits that can improve learning outcomes by reducing airborne pollutants like allergens, asthma triggers, and particle pollutants like PM2.5 that can cause long-term harm to your child’s health.

Here are 7 tips to help keep children safe, healthy, and high performing using clean air in classrooms.

7 Tips to help keep your child safe in the classroom

Here are 7 tips to help your child stay safe in the classroom during the school year:

1. Send your child to school equipped to take precautions. Make sure they have a clean mask, hand sanitizer, and personal, reusable water bottle to reduce contact with possibly contaminated surfaces.

2. Urge your children to follow guidelines for social distancing. Many schools no longer allow students to sit in close proximity to each other in the classroom or anywhere on campus. Help your child understand that staying apart from others helps keep them safe from becoming sick.

3. Make sure your child knows good hygiene practices by heart. Go over washing your hands for 20 seconds, coughing or sneezing into a tissue or elbow, and using hand sanitizer whenever they touch a shared surface or blow their nose.

4. DO NOT send your child to school with a fever or flu-like symptoms. COVID-19 and other airborne infections spread easily among children and can be more dangerous if your child is sick with any other illnesses.

5. Contact your child’s pediatrician right away if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, such as coughing, fever, or shortness of breath. Immediate treatment for COVID-19 can help stop the virus from spreading and can prevent long-term health complications.

6. Help your child learn how to communicate with teachers about their health, anxiety, and stress. Your child may feel uncomfortable in a classroom with new rules and fresh fears about getting sick. Help them feel comfortable expressing their feelings and asking for help when they need it.

7. Work with school administration and staff to learn how you can help. Make sure the school clearly displays appropriate COVID-19 guidelines where anyone entering the campus can see. Share concerns about your child or their environment with teachers and administrators. Empower your child and school staff to help address bullying or stigma around COVID-19 precautions.

If your child is especially at risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms, you might consider sending your child to class with a personal air purifier. Access to clean air in their immediate environment, such as their desk in class, can help protect your child from airborne infections, allergens, asthma triggers, and harmful particles.

Atem Desk removes up to 99% of pollutants down to 0.003 microns and can be equipped with accessories, such as a carrying case and portable power bank, that can help your child have access to clean air throughout the school day.

Why should I be concerned about indoor air quality?

Going back to the classroom can face your family and your child with a great deal of uncertainty.

In addition to COVID-19, many schools experience major indoor air quality issues (1).

Older school facilities are especially a problem, as many have fallen into disrepair and are built of old materials that can pose a huge air quality risk (2).

Even newer school facilities can be problematic, using building materials and indoor furnishings that offgas formaldehyde and chemicals into indoor air (3).

No matter the age or state of repair of your school, indoor air can be filled with pollutants from numerous indoor and outdoor sources, including (4) (5) (6):

  • dust
  • pollen from plants and trees that seeps indoors
  • mold growing in moist areas
  • particulate matter from vehicle pollution and factory emissions
  • bacteria growing on dirty surfaces
  • virus material that can survive on some surfaces for up to 72 hours
  • gases from appliances like stoves, oven, and stovetop burners
  • chemicals used in household cleaners
  • pet dander

If left uncontrolled, indoor air pollutants can have two major effects on your child’s learning.

First, many indoor air pollutants can trigger allergies and asthma. Mold and dampness alone can increase episodes of severe allergy and asthma symptoms by up to 50% (7).

Mold and dampness can increase instances of severe allergy and asthma symptoms by up to 50%.

Research suggests that allergies and asthma can have a huge impact on your child’s ability to learn (8) (9) (10) (11):

  • a 1993 study suggested that asthma is linked to physical and psychological effects that can make it harder for children to perform on school work
  • a 2016 study in Norway found that minor increases in pollen levels can reduce individual test scores up to 2.5%, with decreases even higher for students with pollen allergies
  • a 2017 study in Sweden found that common pollutants like pet dander and dust from cleaning can worsen asthma symptoms and increase anxiety about symptoms in children that causes them to lose focus on school
  • a 2019 study illustrated a link between missing school because of asthma and poor learning outcomes that get worse as you get older, especially if you live in dense, urban areas with high levels of pollution

Second, indoor air pollution can put stress on your child’s brain that limits their cognitive function and ability to focus.

Indoor air pollution can put stress on your child’s brain that limits their cognitive function and ability to focus.

Here are some recent studies that link indoor air quality and learning outcomes (12) (13) (14) (15):

  • a 2018 study found that ultrafine particles (UFPs) from smoke and car exhaust can go straight into your central nervous system, causing brain damage throughout your life
  • a 2018 study using air quality data in China found that minor changes in particulate pollution levels can drastically impact verbal and math scores in children over 10, with verbal tests affected significantly more than math tests
  • a 2018 review suggests that air pollution causes children to be born with lower IQs, and certain pollutants cause specific cognitive impairments: for example, PM2.5 lowers verbal learning, while nitrogen dioxide (NO2) lowers short-term memory
  • a 2019 study found that short-term exposure to PM2.5 from common indoor sources like candles can significantly reduce cognitive performance on tests involving memory, attention, and language

Indoor air pollution, especially PM2.5, can also cause immune system responses that make your child more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections, including COVID-19.

Indoor air pollution can cause immune system responses that make your child more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections, including COVID-19.

The takeaway

Millions of children and teachers going back into classrooms following an unprecedented global pandemic may not know exactly what to expect.

Take precautions to help keep your child safe, healthy, and focused on their learning in the classroom.

Work with your child’s teachers and other parents to decide how best to help protect your child and ensure their ongoing success.

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