Funding is often schools’ biggest obstacle when it comes to enhancing the learning environment beyond the basics.
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund is providing a significant influx of resources for schools across the nation. However, an interesting problem revealed itself as schools find themselves struggling to decide how to spend the largely unexpected funds. In fact, according analysis of the federal ESSER data by the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 19.1 percent of the program’s funding has been used as of Feb. 28, 2022.
The relief package, which provided nearly $190.5 billion to the ESSER Fund through three separate stimulus bills, is incredibly helpful and impactful in addressing the impact that COVID-19 has on schools across the U.S. For many schools, which are historically underfunded and lacked resources, this money gives them the opportunity to make facility updates that have been needed for years.
And as the pandemic continues to burden schools for more than two years into the initial outbreak, many schools are choosing to allocate resources towards cleaning, disinfection, and other safety measures that will prevent the spread of disease and ensure there is a plan in place should a case occur at their school. The hope is that these measures will reduce the frequency of at-home learning, which is difficult for teachers and students alike.
Truth is in the Numbers
Extensive research from organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed how a healthy school environment affects attendance, concentration, and overall education outcomes. Indoor air quality, the use of safe chemicals for cleaning and disinfection, and mold and mildew management are just a few facilities maintenance categories that drastically impact students.
The CDC also revealed asthma to be one of the leading causes of school absenteeism, resulting in nearly 14 million missed school days annually. Yet, proper facilities maintenance can reduce the number of irritants and allergens in the air that exacerbate asthma symptoms and trigger attacks.
Regular facilities maintenance is critical to preventing the spread of viruses like COVID-19 and ensuring safe and healthy environments on the whole.
Creating Cleaner, Safer Schools Using ESSER Funds
From thorough cleaning to indoor air quality improvements, there are many ways schools can use their ESSER funding to create a safer learning environment for students and staff. But to ensure that schools are taking the best first step forward, and one that will be attainable for the long-haul, school operations should zero in on five key areas of focus regarding regular cleaning and disinfection, deep cleaning, periodic disinfection, long-lasting surface protection and indoor air quality.
By strategically budgeting for each of these categories, schools can minimize disruptions by ensuring all necessary measures are taken to prevent the spread of illness and restore a safe environment quickly if an outbreak does occur. Specifically:
- Regular Cleaning and Disinfection
How effective is your school’s current cleaning routine? Do you have regular disinfection practices in place to remove the germs that spread illness? Ensuring a routine is in place is important, but equally critical is the need to use tools and chemicals that are both safe and effective, especially in learning environments. The EPA provides a list of disinfectants, List N, which are proven to kill the virus that causes COVID-19.
Regular cleaning and disinfection keep students and staff safe from germs, dirt, and dust that cause adverse health effects. It includes removing dust, dirt, and germs from high-touch surfaces and high-traffic areas.
- Deep Cleaning
A deep cleaning should be completed periodically to address any areas that are difficult to clean while school is in session. Some of these services require wait periods in which the surfaces can’t be walked upon or would otherwise disrupt students and staff, which is why they should be completed over breaks. A deep cleaning usually includes carpet cleaning and extraction, strip and floor wax, high dusting, and tile scrubbing, among several other services.
What’s keeping districts from spending COVID relief funding?
Key steps to keep indoor air clean in classrooms