Moms fighting for better air quality in schools

A First Alert Safety Desk special report
Studies show poor air quality affects our health and our children's performance at school
Published: Oct. 18, 2023 at 7:28 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - There’s a group of moms in Wisconsin trying to clear the air in the classroom.

Air quality is top of mind because studies show poor air quality impacts our health and a child’s performance at school.

This effort has all been led by a mom in our area. She’s working with lawmakers on a bill that’s getting bipartisan support.

The idea is to have a process to monitor air quality in our schools. And it doesn’t have to break the bank.

Much like the water we drink, the air we breathe is just as important.

“What I started learning, just a basic thing, was how indoor air quality affects health and performance,” Jayne Black said.

Block, a De Pere mom, wears a lot of hats. She’s the founder of the environmental conservation organization Green Schools Rock and won the Mrs. Wisconsin USA Earth pageant.

She’s also involved in many sustainability projects and boards. But her favorite and most important role is being a mom.

She has a son with asthma and a daughter with multiple sclerosis.

“Her and I started having these really in-depth conversations because she’s concerned, too, and that’s what really made me say what law do we have here in Wisconsin to mandate, and how do we know that the quality in my classroom is good?”

She’s taking action, working with state lawmakers on a proposed indoor air quality bill for schools.

“I just said I want to write a bill. We need to do something and get people to look at indoor air quality as being as important as kind of the way we look at water and pollution,” Black said.

It’s not a mandate but would create a program to inspect and evaluate public schools.

“The school has to have an evaluation. They can utilize the Department of Public Health or they can get their own, and then they have to give that report to a lot of different places, but most importantly to the person that requested it,” Black said.

It’s just getting started, but the proposal has bipartisan support.

Black has also teamed up with the American Lung Association. Its website shows studies linking bad indoor air quality to several harmful outcomes, including increased student absences because of respiratory infections or allergic responses and reduced academic performance.

It impacts both teachers and staff.

“Just feeling sleepy in a classroom, it’s because the level of air quality is not ideal, and that can weaken academic performance, concentration,” said Rachel Steuer, a mom who supports the indoor air quality bill, “and so I got really invested in that, and so I became a part of these Facebook groups to become more involved and more aware.

Steuer is now part of a statewide Facebook group called Moms Clean Air Force Wisconsin.

“The EPA states this about the average age of a child’s public classroom is 55 years old, so even if you’re trying to update the HVAC system you’re not getting those air exchanges, you’re not cleaning the air. We’re obviously not keeping doors open like we used to,” said Steuer.

What these moms want is awareness.

But also, they say, the community can work together to donate classroom air purifiers.

“There are many schools that are doing this,” Steuer said. “It was just, I think, in Time magazine where they’re running drives, they’re putting them in schools to help with the indoor air quality where you’re not having to do a referendum to overhaul an HVAC system.”

“I talked with someone with the Department of Education, and I think we have 1,200 schools in Wisconsin, only like 450 even access or apply for Esser grants, which were put there during COVID to improve ventilation,” Black said.

Black said while we can’t see the issue, it’s there and it’s important.

Black said “I always--” and she paused as she started to cry -- “I always keep my kids in the back of my mind, and I think about... a lot of people don’t understand the way my daughter has to live. She has to worry about this.”

The bill is gaining traction and receives a hearing next week. With national organizations and an army of moms on her side, Black hopes changes are made and the air is cleared.

The First Alert Safety Desk will keep you posted as this develops.