Acoustical performance is an important consideration in the design of classrooms. Research indicates that levels of background noise and reverberation, little noticed by adults, adversely affect learning environments for young children, who require optimal conditions for hearing and comprehension. Poor classroom acoustics are an additional educational barrier for children who have hearing loss and those who use cochlear implants, since assistive technologies amplify both wanted and unwanted sound. Children who have temporary hearing loss, who may comprise up to 15% of the school age population according to the Centers for Disease Control, are also significantly affected, as are children who have speech impairments or learning disabilities. Kids whose home language is different than the teaching language are also at additional risk of educational delay and failure.
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The Board is undertaking rulemaking to address acoustics in classrooms by referencing a voluntary consensus standard developed by the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) with support from the Board. Accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the “ANSI/ASA S12.60-2010 American National Standard Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools (Parts 1 and 2)” sets specific criteria for maximum background noise and reverberation time in classrooms. The Board’s rulemaking will focus on adding scoping provisions to its ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines to apply the ANSI/ASA technical standard to classrooms that are newly constructed or significantly renovated. The Board will gather information on cost impacts in preparation for a proposed rule that will be made available for public comment.
In 1998, the US Access Board joined with the ASA to support the development of a classroom acoustics standard. Stakeholders from both public and private sectors were involved. Their work became ANSI/ASA S12.60-2002 standard. Consistent with long-standing recommendations for good practice in educational settings, the standard set specific criteria for maximum background noise (35 decibels) and reverberation time (0.6 to 0.7 seconds) for unoccupied classrooms. More recently, the Board again worked with ASA to reformat the standard. The revised final standard, published in May 2010 and available free from ASA, separately addresses permanent schools (Part 1) and relocatable classrooms (Part 2).
Taken by itself, the standard has been voluntary unless referenced by a State code, ordinance, or regulation. However, some school systems may require compliance with the standard as part of their construction documents for new schools, thus making the design team responsible for addressing the issues. Parents may also find the standard useful as a guide to classroom accommodations under IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Various entities, including states, local jurisdictions, boards of education, and other nations have already implemented standards or directives on classroom acoustics.