As CASLE’s paper files are sorted through, more efforts and contributions will be added to this document and website. However, by far the longest list would be the many schools that CASLE worked with directly, one incident at a time.
This document gives an idea of the depth and breadth of CASLE’s work on behalf of schoolchildren and school staffs, for all of us, because our children are our country’s greatest resource.
More About CASLE: an incomplete list of contributions for reference
It became clear to CASLE’s founding five that their children were being put at risk daily while at school. Until then, like most who send their children off to school, they had believed the system was taking good care of everything. CASLE’s founders happened to see incidents – several – in their schools. They worked to correct them and paid the price, but that is another story. While they did this daily in incident after incident, they came to realize the system needed significant changes. Work had to be done on many levels if changes were to be significant, and last any longer than our own daily vigilance. Principals, teachers, custodians, board members, maintenance managers, officials of government departments, politicians, and other parents had to have their eyes opened, as theirs had been, to the importance of healthy school environments.
They found each other and formed CASLE (Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment). It eventually became Canadians for A Safe Learning Environment (CASLE), an information-based Registered Charity with a network of volunteer parents, teachers, affiliated groups and individuals from across Nova Scotia, Canada, and beyond.
Clean air and a healthy environment are important to learning, as are a good curriculum and good teaching. Health, behaviour and learning ability are all influenced by school environments.
CASLE worked hand in hand with the system and with all concerned to improve the condition of school buildings and the products and practices used within, so that school children and school staffs have a safe and healthy daily environment.
Mission: “With solid information, respect and persistence as our primary tools we can help provide environmentally healthy products and practices in schools, and healthy school buildings.”
For over 25 years CASLE worked on more newly recognized environmental health concerns such as toxic chemical use reduction, indoor mould removal, pesticide reduction, scent- free programs and no-idling vehicle zones around schools, but also on shoring up well established and regulated Health and Safety concerns, like asbestos, silica, PCBs and building healthy new schools.
Although most of CASLE’s contributions have been in Nova Scotia, in CASLE’s years of work it assisted many schools and school boards across Canada and in other countries to achieve healthier schools – from Whitehorse to Texas, from Australia to England. CASLE began prior to the internet. Its filing cabinets contain detailed records of the earlier years, and computers contain the later years.
Selected Contributions of CASLE
CASLE played a role in each of these improvements, sometimes minor, sometimes major:
- Raised the awareness and action on healthy school creation and operation within several Nova Scotia (NS) government departments and through several successive provincial governments over 25 years.
- Brought awareness and action to the federal level, primarily through Health Canada, government agencies and committees and public organizations. Worked with Health Canada, CMHC, NRC, and others federally so that Nova Scotia’s pioneering work came into national awareness. Robinson spoke to international and national conferences and served on committees working on public health issues such as indoor mould, evaluation of chemicals proposed for removal from consumer products (such as the Safe Environments Program and Chemicals Management Plan), the Tools for Schools Kit, and more.
- Provided guidance for schools and individuals across Canada and beyond (e.g. Resource/reviewer for Toronto School Board draft scent free policy and resource for public action groups seeking adoption of this document, 2005-7, Fix Our Schools Organization, Ontario, Toxic-Free-Marin, and many, many more)
- Worked with the Occupational Health and Safety Division of NS Dept. of Labour for many changes, including activating Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Committees in all NS schools, finding ways to enforce workplace standards in schools, including children’s vulnerabilities in those actions; protecting school occupants from common hazards such as asbestos, silica, mould, lead, and more. The OHS Act was interpreted to allow community members to serve on (OHS) committees in schools as long as they did not reduce the participation of employee members. The Dept. of Labour reported that schools with a community OHS member made advancements with remarkable success and with little or no intervention needed from the Dept. of Labour.
- Worked with the NS Dept. of Education to create many changes to the system. All NS school boards now have qualified engineer managers in charge of operations and maintenance, and who meet regularly to share and solve joint problems. All regions were in-serviced by CASLE and had follow-up assistance in choosing less-toxic cleaning and maintenance materials, identifying school Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) problems, and more. IAQ protocols were implemented across the province. Asbestos, radon, lead, indoor mould and other hazards were evaluated, abatement plans were developed, and implemented. School chemistry departments were audited and made less hazardous. Techniques were developed to allow minor and even major renovations to happen without exposure to students and staff. Successive NS governments invested heavily in creating Healthy Schools, both old and new, making NS a leader in Healthy Schools.
- Replacement of school board cleaning materials containing toxic ingredients (including endocrine disruptors, mutagens, carcinogens, sensitizers and teratogens) with safer alternatives Nova Scotia, and partnered with workers unions to improve other parts of Canada. (1994 to present)
- Reduced the use of toxic building materials in existing schools (e.g., low-emission paint, caulks, waxes)
- Fostered use of isolation techniques and scheduling for renovations and maintenance of schools for major and minor renovations (e.g., scheduling paving and tarring roofs when children are not in school) (1994 to present)
- Fostered elimination of pesticide use in and around schools in Nova Scotia (1994 to present)
- Reduced use of CCA pressure-treated wood in school construction and school playgrounds (1997 to present)
- Fostered changes in industries such as the carpet industry, the cleaning industry, and to school design, construction and operation.
- Fostered scent-free programs, no-vehicle-idling-programs, smoke-free programs in schools and other public buildings (1994 to present)
- Advised Department of Education in interventions for environment and health issues such as “sick” schools needing to get by until new schools are built, installation of temporary of air filter machines for select classrooms, and assistance in designing the province’s ECO classroom for environmentally sensitive students and teachers, and healthy school design and construction.
- The summer of 1997 saw the first Provincial Indoor Air Quality Conference on Schools, sponsored by the Department of Education. CASLE made the opening address to “set the tone” for the two days. At this meeting CASLE introduced the US EPA Tools for Schools Action Kit to the Department of Education and School Boards. One school activated the kit as a result, thanks to Chemistry teacher Sandra LeBlanc, who then won a US EPA implementation award for her work with her students in the Kit’s operation. Sandra was to be part of the 2007 major project to implement Tools for Schools in NS schools. We did not achieve funding.
- CASLE executive wrote a report on the new Horton School (near Wolfville) from an environmental health viewpoint. (1998) The Department published the report widely through the province, and led to the Department organizing CASLE presentations on Healthy School Design and Construction to the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, the maintenance managers for the seven provincial school boards, the Department of Transportation and Public Works, Labour and Health Inspectors and the construction consortiums that build our new schools.
- CASLE’s president’s report on ventilation systems was instrumental in the Education Department’s decision to require full ventilation systems rather than less effective rooftop package units, and exceeding ASHRAE’s guidelines for air delivery, including 100% fresh air ventilation systems in all new schools since 1998.
- CASLE’s president chaired and VP served on the NS Department of Education’s Healthy Schools Construction Committee to guide the healthy schools aspects of the new Halifax West High School, a model “Healthy School” and subsequent new schools. Among many other healthy school items, new schools will have no carpeting, 100% fresh air, gymnasiums finished and off-gassed early, use less toxic materials whenever possible, have new locker design, no gas appliances, and much more. See Healthy Schools Design and Construction and its Appendix on www.casle.ca
- CASLE’s president caused formal identification of asbestos content in all Nova Scotian schools and establishment of new procedures for removal of asbestos from schools in Nova Scotia (1994 to present)
- CASLE’s president (chair) and vice-president Hum served on the interdepartmental committee that drafted Healthy Schools Design and Construction (2002), which was integrated into the design requirements manual for the construction of all new public buildings in Nova Scotia, including schools, hospitals, prisons, etc.
- US National Education Association published the document Healthy School Design and Construction on their website and on disc and microfiche. ~ 2003
- CASLE’s Degaust/Ratchford’s Less Toxic Meeting Places and Robinson’s cleaning chemical articles were translated and published in European countries: (early 2000s)
- Reviewed US EPA’s draft Healthy Schools web information, by invitation (1998-2000)
- Reviewed Health Canada’s draft Tools for Schools Action Kit, by invitation
- Key contributor, Scent-Free module Health Canada’s draft Tools for Schools Action Kit (~2007)
- Trainer/reviewer/resource for several NB Lung Association Healthy School projects and documents including the Scent Free Program Video text (2000-2006)
- Train the Trainer for NB Lung Association’s Tools for Schools/Healthy Schools Program (early 2000’s)
- Partnered with Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre, Dalhousie University on a national study funded by Health Canada to identify and understand the factors that facilitate or hinder the use of existing knowledge about Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) issues and the implementation of existing guidelines (1999-2002)
- Partnered with the New Brunswick Lung Association on a national pilot project to test the use of Tools for Schools (2000)
- President Robinson was a key contributor to a three year IAQ project by Pollution Probe in Ottawa.(1998-2000)
- President Robinson served on the founding committee and national board of directors of the Healthy Indoors Partnership, an organization of government, industry and organizations that works on IAQ issues in Canada. (2002-2004)
- CASLE has served as a resource to local, national and international media.
- Served on Halifax School Board committees:
- Environmental Health (Corinne Harland 1993-95),
- Halifax Regional School Board Tobacco Policy committee (Corinne Harland 2003),
- Scent Free Policy committee (Karen Robinson late 1990s),
- Cleaning Product Evaluation Committee (Avis DeGaust and Karen Robinson 1997-8)
- Anaphylaxis Policy committee (Karen Robinson Corinne Harland Avis Degaust 2000)
- Maintenance Review Committee (Karen Robinson Avis Degaust 2002)
- CASLE’s working board provided talks to schools, governments, and organizations. Speakers over the years were, Harland, Given, Hum, Coughlan, Degaust/Ratchford, Moser, and Robinson. A remarkably small list to have done so much. Behind the scenes there were several more board members at different times, such as Malouf and Stone, plus the long-time Treasurer, Janice Moore. Several board members contributed for shorter periods of time. Names are on CASLE documents.
- Robinson’s selected Speaking Engagements:
- The international Air and Waste Management Association, A&WMA (2003, 2004, 200?)Canada’s first national conference on cancer prevention, Prevent Cancer Now, 2007
- Environment and health panel of the ESAC (Environmental Studies Association of Canada) national conference, 2002
- EECOM 2017 Acadia University
- by invitation, talks to schools, PTAs, provincial government departments, provincial maintenance managers organization, Federation of Home and Schools Associations, two provincial political party policy meetings (and less formally for two more), annual talks to teachers in training at Mt St Vincent U and St FX U…
- She also served on several national committees and organizations, contributed to provincial and national forums on indoor mold, chemicals management, and more.
- CASLE received the Canadian Institute of Child Health’s National Innovation Award of Excellence (2005)
- Two of CASLE’s Board members received Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medals (Debbie Hum and Karen Robinson 2004)