School District Issues Extreme Heat Guidance As Climate Change Plagues Classrooms

Philadelphia's decision will affect around 100 school buildings that don’t have “sufficient air conditioning systems” to keep temperatures below the threshold.
Latoya Carroll, picks up her children, Xavier Braxton, 8, and Jayden Braxton, 7, during the early dismissal at Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School due to lack of air conditioning in the school building and high temperatures, on May 31, 2022, in Baltimore.
Latoya Carroll, picks up her children, Xavier Braxton, 8, and Jayden Braxton, 7, during the early dismissal at Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School due to lack of air conditioning in the school building and high temperatures, on May 31, 2022, in Baltimore.
Vincent Alban/The Baltimore Sun via Associated Press

The School District of Philadelphia issued what it called extreme heat protocols after high temperatures caused schools to dismiss students early last week.

Reggie McNeil, the chief operating officer for the district, on Friday released guidance stating that when temperatures exceed 85 degrees or the heat index hits 90, the district will begin monitoring temperatures inside each school, and recommend appropriate action to keep students and teachers safe, as early as possible.

“Exposure to excessive heat can cause heat-related illness,” McNeil warned in a statement posted on the district’s website.

“If temperatures in instructional spaces are expected to hit 90℉ or higher, we then determine if a temporary shift to virtual learning or other action is necessary,” McNeil continued.

The decision will affect about 100 school buildings that don’t have “sufficient air conditioning systems” to keep temperatures below the threshold.

McNeil said the district was working to improve the air conditioning systems across all schools.

“Given the average age of our schools, the extensive scope of work needed and the available capacity and resources, each project could take as much as two years to complete,” McNeil said.

On Tuesday, all Philadelphia public schools were ordered to dismiss students early due to heat.

Philadelphia schools weren’t the only ones affected. Baltimore city public schools also dismissed students early on Tuesday because of air conditioning issues or lack of those systems altogether, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Officials in a Michigan district cited in a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office published Saturday said approximately 60% of schools there do not have air conditioning systems. In 2019, some of those schools were forced to modify their schedules due to high temperatures.

Overall, the report said around 41% of school districts nationwide need to update or replace heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. That amounts to around 36,000 schools across the country.

Erica Weisfelner, an elementary school teacher in Farmingdale, New York, who works in a classroom with no air conditioning, told The Washington Post said it can get extremely warm with summer approaching.

“I have 500 students who pass through my room each week, and when it is uncomfortable in here, it’s like trying to stop wet noodles from sticking to the wall,” Weisfelner said.

“This is a problem for the whole Northeast,” she continued. “We’re now starting to get hot and muggy days even in late April.”

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