In the span of one week, ASHA enjoyed two significant Capitol Hill successes to promote better classroom acoustics. The House passed legislation that allows federal funds to be used for acoustic improvements and ASHA hosted a briefing attended by more than 50 congressional staff, federal agency representatives, organizations representing people with hearing loss, and a contingent of ASHA audiologists.
Public School Improvements
Panelists at the classroom acoustics briefing included (from left) 12-year-old Nicole Hubert and her father, Greg; ASHA member Peggy Nelson, professor of audiology at the University of Minnesota; architect Marcus Adrian; and Elizabeth Stewart from the United States Access Board.
On May 14, the U.S. House passed H.R. 2187, the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act. This legislation requires the secretary of education to make $6.4 billion in grants available to states for the modernization, renovation, or repair of public schools (including early learning facilities and charter schools) to make them safe, healthy, high-performing, and technologically up-to-date. H.R. 2187 would authorize the grants for fiscal year 2010 and beyond.
H.R. 2187 includes provisions that allow school districts to address classroom noise and acoustics in school buildings. The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for further consideration.
ASHA has been working for several months with several congressional offices to improve and expand schools' abilities to address excessive classroom noise and poor acoustics. H.R. 2187 is similar to legislation considered in 2008 (H.R. 3021) and adds provisions allowing federal grants to be used by school districts to take "measures designed to reduce or eliminate human exposure to classroom noise and environmental noise pollution." During consideration of H.R. 2187 in the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) offered a two-word amendment allowing schools to use money on "ceilings [and] flooring," key elements in addressing building noise and acoustics.
In remarks on his amendment, Sestak indicated that he was late to the committee mark-up session because he had been meeting with his daughter's audiologist. His daughter is recovering from brain surgery and is receiving chemotherapy, which has caused hearing loss, he explained. Sestak further noted that his congressional district is on the flight path of Philadelphia International Airport, where planes fly as low as 500 feet. He has received reports of children not being able to hear in their classrooms and has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration on noise abatement.
ASHA also worked with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) to include language on acoustical standards in the bill's report, encouraging school districts to undertake projects "to reduce or eliminate human exposure to classroom noise and environmental noise pollution." The report also urges the secretary to consider the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-approved Standard S12.60-2002 [Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools] in providing technical assistance to schools.
"This bill is an important step to help make our schools safer, greener, and better learning environments for our children," McCarthy said. "Children cannot learn and teachers cannot teach in crumbling, noisy schools where poor physical conditions distract from classroom activities."
ASHA President Sue Hale commended McCarthy's efforts, saying that "ASHA applauds Rep. McCarthy's commitment to ensure that children have an appropriate environment in which to learn. Reducing classroom noise and ensuring appropriate acoustics are essential elements to all children's academic success."
In May ASHA hosted a Capitol Hill briefing attended by more than 50 individuals, including congressional staff, federal agency representatives, organizations representing individuals with hearing impairment, and ASHA audiologists who were conducting a "Hill Day" advocacy event. The briefing, "Classroom Noise and Acoustics: The Unseen Barriers to Learning," was moderated by Arlene Pietranton, ASHA executive director.
Panelists included Illinois 12-year-old Nicole Hubert, who has bilateral cochlear implants; ASHA member Peggy Nelson, professor of audiology at the University of Minnesota; architect Marcus Adrian; Kenneth Roy, chief acoustician for Armstrong World Industries (manufacturer of acoustic tiles); and Elizabeth Stewart from the United States Access Board, an independent federal agency that ensures access to federally funded facilities and a leading source of information on accessible design. Panelists said that reducing noise and improving acoustics encourages academic progress, does not have to be expensive, and is in practice all over the country.