The Times West Virginian

Headline News

September 3, 2013

‘Heat days’ become more common for sweaty schools

Districts under pressure to start school year earlier, but can’t equip buildings with air conditioning

CHICAGO — When city students arrived for the first day of school under the blazing temperatures of a Midwest heat wave, staff greeted them with some unusual school supplies: water bottles, fans and wet towels to drape around their necks.

What they couldn’t always offer was air conditioning.

“It’s kind of hard to focus because everyone was sweating,” said Deniyah Jones, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Nash Elementary School on Chicago’s West Side, which has just a few window units for the entire fortress-like brick and stone building.

This year’s late August heat exposed a tug-of-war in school districts that are under pressure to start school earlier than ever but are unable to pay to equip aging buildings with air conditioning. Parents who worry hot classrooms are a disadvantage for their kids are issuing an ultimatum: Make classes cooler or start the year later.

“Thinking about air conditioning — we can’t even afford new textbooks,” said Bement Community Unit School District Superintendent Sheila Greenwood, who oversees a tiny district of 380 students about 20 miles southwest of Champaign, Ill.

Many people can recall school days spent inside ancient, brick-construction buildings that on sweltering days seemed as hot as pizza ovens. But hot classrooms are becoming a bigger problem for schools than in years past, and increasingly, getting a “heat day” is as common for students as a “snow day.”

As temperatures soared past 90 last week, some Midwest schools gave students extra water and bathroom breaks or canceled after-school activities. Districts from St. Joseph, Mo., and Frankfort, Ind., sent kids home early. In Fargo, N.D., five schools got the week off, and schools in Minneapolis closed down, too.

“I was up on the third floor and it was 93.8 degrees in the classroom and the kids hadn’t been there in hours,” said Matt Patton, superintendent of a one-school district in Baxter, Iowa. “You put 20 bodies in there and it will go up to at least 95 and you can imagine all the sweat on the desks and textbooks.”

For years, schools have been moving to start the year in late or mid-August rather than just after Labor Day, when it is typically cooler. Part of the reason is that schools need more training days for standardized testing and new academic standards. Holiday breaks have also grown longer, and administrators say the only direction they can go is back into August.

In Chicago, starting a week earlier is part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s strategy to improve education in the nation’s third-largest school district by getting students in school longer. Air conditioning isn’t part of that plan.

“The last estimate was over a billion dollars,” said Becky Carroll, a spokeswoman for Chicago’s district of 700 schools. “Those aren’t dollars we have.”

The concerns go beyond comfort. Excessive heat makes the body work harder to maintain the ideal 98.6 temperature, and that can cause people to feel sluggish. Some worry that makes it hard to learn. Sweating helps cool things down, but children sweat less than adults, so heat can affect them more quickly.

“I was speaking with teachers yesterday and they said there were students who had to leave early, students with bloody noses, students (who) had fainting spells or fell asleep in the classroom,” said Chicago state Rep. La Shawn Ford, who received a number of complaints after the start of school. “It’s just not a learning environment.”

Some studies have also shown that students in classrooms with air conditioning do better on achievement tests than those in classrooms that don’t. Vic Zimmerman, the school superintendent in the central Illinois community of Monticello, said there is simply no point in keeping kids in class. Some of his district’s students were given Popsicles just to get them through morning reading time.

“They become a little bit lethargic,” he said.

Parents are beginning to push back. Sioux City, Iowa, schools decided to move the start of school a week later next year after getting an earful, school board president Mike Krysl said. And a parent group in North Dakota is looking to launch a ballot measure requiring schools to start after Labor Day, said Jeff Schatz, the Fargo school superintendent.

Those measures haven’t always been successful elsewhere.

In Iowa, lawmakers enacted legislation that requires school districts wait until September to open. But the law allows districts to obtain a waiver to start early, and all but 10 of the state’s 346 school districts did just that. Indiana lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully for years to push the start of the school year back to after Labor Day, but have run into resistance from schools who have scheduling concerns and local officials who think the state shouldn’t control the school calendar.

Even in places that have decided to install air conditioning, the process is anything but quick. In St. Joseph, Mo., roughly two-thirds of the district schools lack air conditioning, though many will get it in the next two years after the community approved a plan that includes $5 million for air conditioning.

“There was some pushback from people who were saying, ‘When we were kids we went to school without air conditioning. Why can’t these kids?’” said Barbara Moore, the school board president at the time.

Chicago parents believe the issue is more about inequality. Some schools in the city are air conditioned, some partially, and others not at all. When some schools were closed last year in a restructuring plan, the district promised that students in shuttered schools would be moved to the ones with air conditioning. That steamed parents with students left in the hot schools.

“I don’t think that’s fair to these kids at all,” said Rita Jackson, as she waited outside Nash Elementary last week for her 5-year-old grandson.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 22, 2014

  • U.S. outlines case against Russia on downed plane

    Video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site. Imagery showing the firing. Calls claiming credit for the strike. Recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.

    July 21, 2014

  • James Garner Obit.jpg 'Maverick' star James Garner, 86, dies in California

     Actor James Garner, whose whimsical style in the 1950s TV Western "Maverick" led to a stellar career in TV and films such as "The Rockford Files" and his Oscar-nominated "Murphy's Romance," has died, police said. He was 86.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Given life term, drug offender hopes for clemency

    From the very start, Scott Walker refused to believe he would die in prison.
    Arrested and jailed at 25, then sent to prison more than two years later, Walker couldn’t imagine spending his life behind bars for dealing drugs. He told himself this wasn’t the end, that someday he’d be released. But the years passed, his appeals failed and nothing changed.

    July 20, 2014

  • Teen’s death puts focus on caffeine powder dangers

    A few weeks before their prom king’s death, students at an Ohio high school had attended an assembly on narcotics that warned about the dangers of heroin and prescription painkillers.
    But it was one of the world’s most widely accepted drugs that killed Logan Stiner — a powdered form of caffeine so potent that as little as a single teaspoon can be fatal.

    July 20, 2014

  • Monitors try to secure Ukraine plane crash site

    International monitors moved gingerly Saturday through fields reeking of the decomposing corpses that fell from a Malaysian airliner shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, trying to secure the sprawling site in hopes that a credible investigation can be conducted.
    But before inspectors ever reach the scene, doubts arose about whether evidence was being compromised.

    July 20, 2014

  • Without radar, missile may not have identified jet

    If Ukrainian rebels shot down the Malaysian jetliner, killing 298 people, it may have been because they didn’t have the right systems in place to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft, experts said Saturday.
    American officials said Friday that they believe the Boeing 777 was brought down by an SA-11 missile fired from an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

    July 20, 2014

  • For Obama, foreign crises grow more challenging

    Surveying a dizzying array of international crises, President Barack Obama stated the obvious: “We live in a complex world and at a challenging time.”
    And then suddenly, only a day later, the world had grown much more troubling, the challenges even more confounding.

    July 20, 2014

  • U.S.: Can’t rule out Russian role in plane downing

    U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that the United States cannot rule out that Russia helped in the launch of the surface-to-air missile that shot down a Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

    July 19, 2014

  • Clinton papers: Of Iraq, bin Laden and Supreme Court

    President Bill Clinton’s advisers carefully considered how to explain the president’s military action against Iraq in 1998 as the House was debating his impeachment, according to records from the Clinton White House that were released Friday. The documents also touch upon Osama bin Laden, consideration of military action in Haiti in 1994 and preparationsfor Supreme Court nomination hearings.

    July 19, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads