When social studies teacher Jesse Schneiderman arrived at school after the holiday break on Tuesday, he found a dangerous environment waiting for his students.
Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore was in shambles. Pipes that had just been turned back on had burst, leaving some rooms flooded. Heating vents weren’t working. Entire rooms were destroyed and inaccessible.
Plus, it was bitterly cold. Schneiderman told HuffPost that temperatures inside the school building were in the 30s when he arrived, and still in the 40s on Wednesday. Photos on Twitter showed students across the city suffering as a result.
“It felt like a disaster movie,” Schneiderman said. “You had a lot of kids who were wearing hats and coats and gloves in classes.”
Infrastructure problems were compounded by a storm front that’s already bringing snow, freezing temperatures and heavy winds to the East Coast. The weather is supposed to get worse Wednesday night and through Thursday.
Baltimore City Public Schools acknowledged the problems at Frederick Douglass High School and others across the city and closed them down on Tuesday and Wednesday, though Schneiderman said that decision was too late.
“We have many schools with leaky windows and outdated heating systems that have a hard time keeping up,” city schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster told The Baltimore Sun. “With extreme temperatures, we have the added challenge of freezing pipes and water main breaks.”
Heating issues are plaguing schools up and down the East Coast, leaving parents and educators furious.
Vanessa Scott kept her kids home on Wednesday after they reported that their school bus and classrooms at Red Springs High School in Red Springs, North Carolina, had no heat. Parts of the state saw temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday morning, right before the first day of class in the new year.
Robeson County Schools didn’t return calls for comment, but its website acknowledged that students were in danger:
“While we try to avoid disrupting regular school schedules as it may inconvenience some parents, staff and students, the decision to close schools early are made when there is a clear indication that weather conditions could endanger the safety of children and staff,” the announcement read.
Scott didn’t get that alert, and was upset that she had to personally make the call to keep her kids home. Plus, she said, this is an ongoing problem.
“My kids wear two jackets to school during winter,” she said, noting that the district should “fix the heat or pay the doctor bill if they get sick.”
For cities like Baltimore, this isn’t a heat issue ― it’s a matter of inequality and state funding, Schneiderman said.
Cold classrooms highlight the problem of inadequate public school funding, but fixing infrastructure that’s been ignored for years could take a long time, if it happens at all.
Asked how kids can go back to school if their classrooms are flooded and without heat, Schneiderman replied, “I honestly don’t know.”
“It’s systemic problems with old buildings,” he said. “The pipes are old, the buildings are old; it’s just intense.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story referred to Baltimore City Public Schools as Baltimore County Public Schools.