The State of Our Schools: IAQ Management Results from the 2012 School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS)

The School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS) is a national survey periodically conducted to assess school health policies and practices at the state, district, school, and classroom levels. SHPPS was conducted at all levels in 1994, 2000, and 2006. The 2012 study collected data at the state and district levels only. School-and classroom-level data collection will take place in 2014.

SHPPS assessed the characteristics of eight components of school health: health education, physical education and activity, health services, mental health and social services, nutrition services, faculty and staff health promotion, family and community involvement, and healthy and safe school environment.  Under the healthy and safe school environment component, SHPPS examined a variety of policies and practices related to the physical school environment such as transportation, joint use agreements, indoor air quality (IAQ), pest control, drinking water, hazardous materials, engine idling reduction programs, school construction and renovations, training for custodial or maintenance staff, and professional development.

State-level data and district-level data were collected via Web-based questionnaires completed by designated respondents. These respondents had primary responsibility for or were the most knowledgeable about the particular school health program component. At the district level, the respondent was most knowledgeable about the district policies and practices specific to each school heath program component, with an emphasis on policy.

At the district level, between 2006 and 2012, SHPPS identified a significant increase in districts that had an IAQ management program (35.4 to 47.7%) and that had implemented an engine idling reduction program for school buses (35.3 to 53.8%). During this same time period, the percentage of districts that had adopted a policy to purchase low-emitting products for use in and around the school (25.6 to 36.3%) and a policy to include green building design when building new school buildings or renovating existing buildings (13.4 to 30.0%) also increased significantly.

Other encouraging findings include the fact that many districts required schools to implement a variety of integrated pest management strategies such as:


  • Sealing openings in walls, floors, doors, and windows with caulk or weather stripping (82.1% of districts);
  • Storing food in plastic, glass, or metal containers with tight lids so that it is inaccessible to pests (81.3%); and
  • Using spot treatments and baiting rather than widespread application of pesticides (80.9%).

Though these findings are promising and suggest a movement toward policies and practices that promote student health, there remains much room for improvement. In 21.5 percent of districts, schools were not required to notify staff, students and families prior to the application of pesticides and only 55.0 percent of districts required schools to mark indoor and outdoor areas after having been treated with pesticides. Approximately two-thirds (67.5%) of districts prohibited all tobacco use during any school-related activity and 37.0 percent of districts required that schools be tested for radon.

A growing body of literature supports the importance of the physical school environment on both student health and academic achievement. Policies that promote clean indoor air, safe drinking water, and protection from hazardous materials; policies that promote school construction and renovation that minimizes the impact on the environment and fosters active transport; and policies that ensure schools and districts have well-trained custodial and maintenance staff on issues related to the physical school environment are paramount to ensuring that schools provide a healthy and safe learning environment.