Researchers Release New Collaborative Report on Michigan School Siting Guidelines, Taking the Environment into Account

New report addresses the need for considering environmental factors when determining the location of public schools

Image Credit: Dave Brenner

July 30, 2020 University of Michigan, School for Environment and Sustainability, and Samantha Watters

A new report, entitled Michigan School Siting Guidelines: Taking the Environment into Account, addresses the need for considering environmental factors when assessing and determining the location of public schools. Byoung-Suk Kweon, associate professor in the University of Maryland Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, and Paul Mohai of the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability were the principle investigators on the report that was released earlier this month on July 3, 2020.

Image of Dr.Kweon and Paul Mohai

Mohai and Kweon

The purpose of Kweon and Mohai's report is to explain the need for a school siting policy in Michigan, document the work of the School Siting Task Force, evaluate the resources available for developing a school siting policy, and provide recommendations for a school siting policy for Michigan. Their work is intended to stimulate policy debate and timely action among Michigan legislators, policy advocates, and school communities. Its ultimate goal is to galvanize state lawmakers to develop a statewide school siting policy in Michigan that safeguards students’ health and well-being.

"Children spend many hours in school, and it is important that school environments promote children’s health and well-being," said Kweon. "Our research found that schools located closer to highways and industrial facilities had higher risks of respiratory and neurological diseases than those located farther away. We also found that schools located closer to major highways had a higher percentage of students failing to meet the state standards than the latter after controlling for the location of schools, student expenditure, school size, student–teacher ratio, and free lunch enrollment. In addition, a larger percentage of black, Hispanic, or economically disadvantaged children attended schools nearest to pollution emissions than white students."

In their report, the authors state:

“Michigan currently does not have a statewide approach to school siting that takes into account environmental quality. In 2011, the United States Environmental Protection Agency released national voluntary School Siting Guidelines, calling on states to develop and implement their own school siting and environmental cleanup standards. A number of states have done so, and, with support from the Kresge Foundation, the Michigan School Siting Task Force — a group of scholars, policy professionals, Michigan legislators, and members of non-governmental organizations and Michigan’s school communities — has worked to identify tools and best practices that could facilitate healthy school siting decisions in Michigan.”

In 2017, a group of state Democratic lawmakers introduced a seven-bill package that called for the creation of a plan to annually test water and air quality in every Michigan school and to create an environmental education task force. Mohai spoke at the ensuing press conference, expressing that children cannot choose where they live or attend school, and are therefore especially vulnerable to environmental toxins. “This makes it especially important they go to schools in clean, healthy, and safe environments. In our research, we have found more than 40% of schools in Michigan are located near major sources of air pollution,” Mohai said.

Read more about this story in a Detroit News article.

A link to the full report, Michigan School Siting Guidelines: Taking the Environment into Account, can be found on the Deep Blue website or through the University of Maryland library system.