Environmental justice at school: understanding research, policy, and practice to improve our children's health

J Sch Health. 2012 May;82(5):246-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2012.00694.x.


Background: No overarching federal agencies or policies are responsible for ensuring environmental health at schools in the United States, potentially allowing many inequities for low-income and minority communities to persist. This article examines emergent research, policy, and practice-based efforts that may be used to identify and address environmental justice at school.

Methods: A brief literature review was conducted to understand (1) major mental, behavioral, and physical outcomes associated with environmental risk for school-aged children and (2) current research methods for assessing these relationships. Documents prepared by government agencies, school districts, and advocacy groups were also collected and synthesized to improve understanding of the state of planning and policies for maintaining or improving school environments.

Results: Environmental risk can manifest in diverse ways such as mold, poor air quality, poor community design, or contaminated playgrounds. Deeply rooted in national and state structures of school funding and planning, such risks can lead to outcomes including respiratory illness, poor performance in school, and reduced levels of physical activity. With growing attention to these concerns, methods for measuring environmental risks and underlying disparities have advanced tremendously in the last few decades, yet development of innovative research approaches may be necessary to further advance and evaluate appropriate interventions.

Conclusions: Environmental injustice is generally unacknowledged during decision-making in US school districts. Continued dialogue reflective of translatable science is necessary to support school districts with limited funding in ensuring safe, healthy environments for learning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Indoor / prevention & control
  • Child
  • Environmental Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Research*
  • Schools*
  • United States