Return to Headlines

Baldwin UFSD Featured in The Washington Post

"The Heat Wave is Shutting Schools Down Just as Kids Return to Class"

Schools across the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast closed or dismissed students early this week as a heat wave pounded a swath of the country with scorching temperatures.

Heat days — the corollary to more common snow days — are the new thing, and experts say families should expect more of the same in the coming years.

Sweltering temperatures, high humidity and lack of ventilation make for a toxic combination in older school buildings that lack air conditioning. With near-record temperatures this week, it can be impossible to learn and even dangerous for children in stifling classrooms, leading school leaders to send them home as the school year was just beginning.
In Southern states, air conditioning has long been a necessity, and schools typically are outfitted with centralized systems. But cooling systems were considered unnecessary in the older cities of the Northeast when buildings were constructed decades ago. Now, with climate change producing hotter weather, the calculations are changing.
In Philadelphia this week, students at dozens of schools without air conditioning were dismissed midday due to “extreme heat.” In Baltimore, schools without air conditioning were released early or, in some cases, moved to remote learning. Detroit-area schools and districts across New Jersey closed early. And classes were canceled in schools across Northeast Ohio.

Last month, Chicago teachers were told to keep lights and computers off when possible, and students were advised to wear “loose, light, cotton clothing.” Athletic events were postponed, and practices canceled.

A heat wave that began Saturday over the central states expanded into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions on Sunday and Monday. Record highs were set in dozens of places across the country, with more than 80 million Americans under heat alerts.

Megan Kennedy, a science teacher at Parma Community Middle and High School, a charter school in northeast Ohio, said Tuesday was “pretty miserable” in her building, which is only partially air-conditioned. Her second-floor classroom does not have cooling, so she brought her classes into the auditorium, where various classes clustered to take advantage of the available air conditioning.

“I didn’t really teach,” she said. Instead, students were given a reading assignment they could complete using their laptop computers. “We made it work.”
Still, she was pleased to learn that her school would close Wednesday, saying the idea that a student might pass out or get sick from the heat adds stress to her day.
“I do think schools call off for heat a whole lot more than they used to,” she said. “When we were growing up, we never got days off for heat.”
Shari Camhi, superintendent of the Baldwin Union Free School District on Long Island, said she realized something needed to change when she walked into a classroom last October with a thermometer and it read 95 degrees.

“You can’t learn in that kind of environment,” she said. “It’s not possible.”

Helped by her local assemblywoman, Camhi said, the district was given a state grant to pay for air conditioning units. Installation was completed in most classrooms two days before the current late summer heat wave arrived.

“Our guys have frantically been working this whole summer to get those air conditioners in,” she said. “It’s been a game changer.”

She said the district would have preferred to install central air conditioning, but with buildings up to 110 years old, it would have cost some $40 million. The units cost about $450,000, plus extra needed to increase the electric capacity in some schools.

Read full article online at The Washington Post >>