Time for Massachusetts to make all schools green, healthy and carbon-free – The 74


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For decades, Massachusetts has enjoyed its role as the nation’s education leader. But in one crucial way, the Commonwealth has failed its children’s future.

Climate change poses a threat to children and their schools—not eventually, but now, and particularly in the neighborhoods and communities that are already facing the greatest educational challenges. For the first time in Massachusetts, the governor has signed legislation recognizing the important role schools play in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The provision of the Green and Healthy Schools Act requires state agencies to assess the condition of Massachusetts school buildings and recommend standards to make them fossil fuel free and healthy. But this is just the beginning. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the State School Building Authority must endorse these standards and commit to ensuring that all school buildings meet them by 2050 at the latest. With an inflow of one-time federal funds being used by schools across the country to replace outdated heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, state leaders have an opportunity to implement a comprehensive plan for healthy, carbon-free schools.

Nationwide, schools are the second largest form of public infrastructure and one of the largest public energy consumers. Each year, Massachusetts’ 1,840 schools emit around 880,000 tons of carbon. But they don’t just contribute to climate change; She and her students are victims of it. Last year was the hottest on record for Boston, and at least 18 Massachusetts school districts announced closures and early layoffs due to extreme heat. Even today, less than half of Boston’s public schools have air conditioning.

Many innovations can prepare schools for a climate-affected future. For example, green schoolyards provide a healthy learning environment by improving children’s social and emotional health while promoting climate resilience. Trees and shrubs improve air quality and reduce the urban “heat island effect” that increases temperatures in places with little greenery. Landscaped areas also absorb rainwater to protect against flooding.

Electrification is another concrete first step to make schools healthier and carbon-free. For example, heat pumps — HVAC systems that run on electricity — heat and cool like traditional systems, but because they can be powered by rooftop solar panels, they can further reduce reliance on fossil fuels. These solutions also save districts money: Over a 30-year period, schools that go net-zero—and consume as much as they produce—can spend 25% less on energy and maintenance than schools that don’t.

It’s not just about climate and health; It is also about educational equity. Schools in low-income neighborhoods are less likely to be equipped for extreme heat than buildings in affluent neighborhoods, and an estimated 5% of the difference in standardized test scores between black and Hispanic students and their white peers can be attributed to hot school days. Neighborhoods historically red-flagged often experience the most severe impacts of heat — on average, they are 13 degrees hotter than non-red-flagged neighborhoods.

When students are crammed into muggy, sweltering school buildings and asked to monitor themselves for heat stroke symptoms in class, the adults they rely on fail them. The refusal to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change will continue to hit hardest at the students and communities that are already facing the greatest challenges.

But closing schools due to extreme weather is not a viable long-term solution. Heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the US, and vulnerable communities suffer the worst health effects. As heat waves become more frequent and intense, communities need to be able to turn to schools as healthy places to seek shelter.

The green and healthy schools provision in this year’s state climate law is a critical step in addressing these issues. Assessing the health of schools and recommending standards to make them more environmentally friendly are the key ingredients needed to create a plan to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent wisely when renovating old schools or building new schools to create the healthy learning environments that all children deserve.

Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in education. It will only stay that way if it can keep its schools open and its children healthy.

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