Bills proposed to improve Mich.’s classroom environment

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — A group of state Democratic lawmakers introduced a seven-bill package on Monday that calls for the creation of a plan to annually test water and air quality in every Michigan school and create an environmental education task force.

The bills — announced by state Reps. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit; Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township; Kristy Pagan, D-Canton Township; and Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park — would help local schools improve the health and wellness of students and staff, reduce environmental impact and energy costs and address environmental understanding.

The bills, which will be formally introduced on the House floor on Tuesday, would:

■Require environmental assessments be conducted for any proposed school construction site or addition to an already acquired site.

■Require the state Board of Education to revise its local wellness policy to include a plan for testing water and air quality in every school.

■Create a one-time, $9 million supplemental appropriation for water- and air-quality testing and remediation in schools.

■Encourage each school building in a district to conduct an energy audit every three years to identify potential efficiencies and conservation improvements.

■Create a task force to develop a curriculum to help students understand and address environmental challenges, contribute to students’ healthy lifestyles and provide activities and programs that advance environmental education.

“Given recent events in our state regarding water and air quality, it’s vital that our schools regularly conduct tests to ensure that our students are drinking clean water and breathing clean air. This package protects students’ longterm health, while also giving parents and families the certainty they deserve about the environmental standards of their child’s school,” Camilleri said.

Chang said studies show school location and air pollution are linked to student attendance and academic performance.

“So if we want our kids to be healthy enough to attend school and to do well in school, then we need to make sure they have a healthy school environment,” Chang said. “These bills outline steps our schools and the state can take, such as my bill that addresses school siting, to create a healthier physical environment for our students.”

Paul Mohai of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan spoke at the press conference, saying children cannot choose where they live or attend school, and they are especially vulnerable to environment toxins.

“This makes it especially important they go to schools in clean, healthy and safe environments. Our research we have found more than 40 percent of schools in Michigan are located near major sources of air pollution,” Mohai said.

Emile Lauzzana, director of Community-Michigan for the U.S. Green Building Council, joined lawmakers Monday morning for the announcement.

According to Lauzzana, 18 Michigan schools have achieved LEED standards and efficiencies in their buildings. Twelve other states have laws similar to what is being proposed in Michigan, he said.

“States with green school policies teach students to lead in a changing world and demonstrate a commitment to fiscal responsibility, good job growth, and healthy, high-performance facilities,” Lauzzana said.

The legislators also announced the formation of the Better Classroom Caucus, which Wittenberg will chair, to address the environmental and health factors in schools.