As Maryland and Ohio students headed back to school for their first week, heat and a lack of air conditioning forced closures in some of their districts. Some cities with sizable Black populations, such as Baltimore and Columbus, Ohio, had early dismissals in response to classrooms with sweltering temperatures — a major issue that hasn’t shown any signs of improving.
The problem affects the quality of educations for students who are denied learning opportunities when they are kept at home, many school community members in Baltimore County said to The Baltimore Sun. Students can’t be properly taught and cared for in extremely hot classrooms either, making it more urgent that air conditioning problems are fixed. However, an immediate solution has evaded 10 Baltimore County schools that closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. More than 50 of neighboring Baltimore City Public Schools had early dismissals on those days.
“No child, or educator, should have to try to learn in a classroom that’s extremely hot,” Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said, adding that inadequate funding has contributed to the issue. “This places a huge damper on the learning environment.”
Baltimore city schools have the most “outdated building portfolio” in the state, with construction needs totaling an estimated $3 billion. The number of schools within AC or inadequate cooling units is about 60. The district is following a state-approved five-year plan allowing for 12 schools to receive air conditioning this year. Twelve facilities received installed AC in 2016 and last year, school officials said. The plan relies on capital improvement funds that are given to the district.
Closures and dismissals happen on days when temperatures reach 85 degrees or higher in non-AC schools but students are given lunch and local recreation centers are open for them, officials said.
In Ohio, a similar pattern has played out as heatwaves have forced school closures and dismissals. Columbus City Schools, the state’s largest district, dismissed early Tuesday and canceled classes on Wednesday. Schools were open for a full day of classes on Thursday, the district tweeted.
With the heat-related issues, districts are forced to stick to multi-year capital improvement plans to fix malfunctioning AC units and or bring in new ones. Officials could propose and weigh immediate possible solutions through emergency meetings if they see fit as well.