Investing in healthy schools is an investment in public health

In Massachusetts, the coronavirus pandemic has brought immense pain and suffering. He brought an impressive innovation. It also highlighted the weaknesses in our infrastructure. The state has only three accredited premises public health services – Boston, Cambridge and the Worcester Regional Health Alliance.

Schools needed, and still do, the support of local public health units to analyze and determine the context-specific implications of advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Health and Human Services. Schools needed, and still do, school health teams, ideally anchored by a school nurse, to develop, implement and repeat site-specific infection prevention and control plans. Schools needed, and still need, building improvements and new ventilation systems to provide a healthy physical environment for learning.

We can achieve all three of these goals with a smart investment of COVID relief funds.

First, the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services should structure the disbursement criteria for municipal access to COVID funds to encourage the formation of regional public health collaborations modeled on the Worcester Regional Health Alliance. . The Alliance is a coalition of seven municipalities that used a regional structure to build a cost-effective and labor-efficient regional public health district. The kind of technical assistance that schools need is better delivered through sharing across jurisdictions than with each city acting alone. Regional health units are the solution to a capital intensive but critical community need.

Second, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education should structure the disbursement criteria for access of local education agencies to COVID relief funds in order to encourage pilot programs to strengthen school health teams by adding staff, with particular emphasis on infection prevention and control. DPH’s School Health Services Department should assess and monitor the impact of a strengthened school health and infection prevention and control team, in collaboration with the Office of Applied Statistics, Evaluation and Technical Services (ASETS). We should seek to monitor the impact of these investments on the uptake of preventive health care (e.g. influenza vaccines), the average daily attendance rate, the annual learning loss from infectious diseases, and schools as vectors of disease for the community, among other potential indicators. impact. With evidence of a net positive impact of strengthening school health teams, LEAs would benefit from the state continuing to fund school health teams, even after relief funds expire.

Finally, there needs to be a closer partnership between the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the School Building Authority to facilitate the strategic use of COVID relief funds statewide in the name of building upgrades. Many districts do this work themselves. Lynn had eight schools without mechanical ventilation and uses COVID relief funds to solve this problem.

Yet the state should do more than let each city fend for itself. MSBA conducted statewide surveys of the facility needs of school buildings in 2005, 2010, and 2016. The state’s education-specific COVID stimulus funds are now expected to be used for another survey. statewide to assess buildings against sound building standards. Such a survey could help districts determine investments in facilities related to COVID while helping to identify where additional and targeted investments are needed to improve school facilities where conditions are worst. the National COVID Facilities and Collaboration Council advise that 15% of education-specific COVID relief funds (excluding 20% ​​for lost learning, in accordance with the legislative mandate) be directed to healthy schools.

If Massachusetts could regionalize its public health infrastructure, strengthen school health teams, and achieve healthy school buildings statewide, the state would equip residents with resilience to pandemics and increase the capacity to sustain health. ‘in-person learning under adverse conditions. We would also improve the learning opportunities for our students, even in non-emergency conditions, by supporting their health and that of school staff. And, of course, a strengthened public health infrastructure would also support the health of our communities more broadly.

Healthy schools and healthy communities. This is what these investments could bring.

Danielle Allen is a professor at Harvard and is considering a candidacy for governor. On behalf of the COVID Collaborative, she led a task force on infection prevention and control in schools.

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