Helping Sensitive Students In and Out of the Classroom

(Updated 2008)

Some students such as those with allergies, respiratory illnesses and environmental sensitivities, may need special allowances made for them to remain healthy while in school and reach their academic potential. The following are some general suggestions, however individuals’ needs may vary.

  1. Check for any source of pollution in or near the school such as traffic, factories, power stations, agricultural areas, toxic dumpsites, etc.
  2. Consider seating sensitive students near a window that provides fresh, clean air.
  3. Sensitive students may benefit from a floor model HEPA and activated charcoal air cleaner in the classroom. (See CASLE’s website for an article on what to look for and what to avoid in choosing air filters.
  4. Sensitive students may need pure water that is stored in glass containers. (Avoid plastic bottles. Filtered water can be good as long as the filters are not too old.)
  5. Many products can offgas VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) which contribute to indoor air pollution. Use cleaning products and maintenance chemicals that are the least-toxic needed to do the job, and also fragrance/perfume-free. Squirt, don’t spray. Also, use no chemical deodorizers.
  6. Wax or strip floors during evenings, weekends and vacations, but not during class times. Use least-toxic products.
  7. Remove all carpeting. Replace with hard surface flooring and use less-toxic glues.
  8. Renovations in the school may cause irritation or long-term problems due to dust and chemical offgassing. Make sure Safe Work Practices and isolation techniques are being used. If complete isolation of the area is not possible, conduct repairs or renovations (such as painting, removing and laying of tiles, floor refinishing…) Over summer or Christmas vacation. Clean thoroughly upon completion. Allow ample time for off-gassing chemicals from building materials before occupants return.
  9. Many new furnishings gas off VOCs, which can cause irritation. Allow for a period of offgas time before placing new furnishings in the classroom.
  10. Implement a no-scent program in the school. Avoid perfume, cologne, scented products and antistatic products. Air dry-cleaned clothing before wearing. Use fragrance-free personal care products. (See CASLE’s Scent Free section on our website and also
  11. Use less toxic school supplies. Do not allow liquid White-out (tape dispensers are available) in the classroom. Use water based no-scent markers, white glue, non-toxic paints, unscented facial tissue, etc.
  12. Make sure that the list of school supplies for parents to purchase clearly specifies fragrance-free and non-toxic choices.
  13. Use dust free chalk and damp-clean or HEPA vacuum boards and ledges frequently Use electronic screens and flip charts to reduce chalk use. Replace blackboards with white boards but be sure to use non-scented, low-VOC markers, and damp-clean any residues.
  14. Air photocopied papers outside the classroom before distribution. (Twenty-four hours is good)
  15. If A.B.Dick Ditto Machine copies and laminated items must be used, air them at least 24 hours before distribution. Keep these machines and photocopiers, laminators and ideally laser printers in separate, ventilated rooms, separate from classrooms.
  16. Implement a no-idle vehicle zone around schools. (See The Children’s Clean Air Network)
  17. Eliminate pesticide and herbicide treatments of schools, school grounds and playing fields. (See CASLE’s website for links to less toxic alternatives.)
  18. In special cases, classmates may need to avoid bringing to school specific materials or foods such as peanuts, fish products or other materials identified as causing a health risk to a classmate.
  19. Avoid pets, plants and compost bins in the classrooms of sensitive students.
  20. Modify curriculum to meet the needs of the environmentally sensitive student. For example, science, industrial arts and art labs may need adjustment. Choose substances and materials for courses that are as safe for the students as possible.
  21. Establish a “right-to-know” policy for staff, parents and students regarding the materials, chemicals and other substances to be used in school. Posting of information and schedules should be required when renovations, painting and pesticide spraying are unavoidable.
  22. Maintain a registry of vulnerable staff and students to facilitate their notification in the event of unexpected hazards or of unavoidable renovation or maintenance projects that might pose a particular risk to them. All students and staff benefit from a healthy, clean school with lots of fresh air.

– Canadians for A Safe Learning Environment