Teachers say hot classrooms are hurting students’ learning and well-being in record-breaking heat

When classes began this week in the Polk County School District, Florida, fourth-grade teacher Emily Heath and her students returned to a classroom that was sweltering in 80s temperatures after the air conditioning broke down.

She said students at Heath had a hard time coping with the heat.

“They say, ‘It’s too hot here, I can’t concentrate, I can’t work, I have a headache, I’m sweating, I’m thirsty,'” Heath said.

Even in states that are accustomed to hot weather at this time of year, “the temperature in this room is not safe and it’s not good for the kids,” Heath said.

Teachers’ unions and educators are sounding the alarm about sweltering conditions in classrooms as the new school year begins after one of the hottest summers on record across the country.

The problem of excessive heat in classrooms is nothing new, and each year the inadequate air conditioning of dilapidated school buildings has led to schools closing early and switching to distance learning.

However, some educators believe that long periods of hot weather combined with inadequate cooling systems, especially in areas that have not historically experienced multi-day heatwaves, make education difficult and discouraging students. He said it puts them in even greater danger.

Polk Education Association President Stephanie Yokum said, “Children, staff and teachers are feeling ill and lethargic and are unable to get the stimulating and stimulating learning environment they should have at the start of the new school year. I haven’t been able to do it,” he said. , Teachers Union.

Studies show that hot classrooms can negatively affect student learning. In one study published in 2020, researchers found that “students who experienced high temperatures in the school year before exams were less likely to learn,” and that students scored better for each additional day with temperatures above 80 degrees Celsius. found to be declining. The study also found that heat “has a sizeable impact on the performance of students in low-income school districts, particularly those of black and Latinx descent.”

Toni Eckley, a fourth-grade teacher in Loveland, Colorado, returned to her unair-conditioned classroom in her brick building this week, but on Thursday the thermostat was reading 84 degrees.

“The thermostat in my room has never been to 84 degrees. I’ve never seen it that high,” she said. “If your body can’t regulate its own temperature, it’s very difficult to learn.”

In the days after the students returned, Eckley said he heard teachers on the school’s walkie-talkie saying they needed to send the students to a nurse because of heat headaches.

Having multiple fans in the classroom is little comforting, she says.

“I feel like my ability to actually get them involved in schoolwork is greatly diminished because they are less resilient to learning,” Eclay said.

By the end of the day, the teachers are also blushing and sweaty.

Eckley said school districts are doing all they can to help, but budget constraints limit their ability to do more.

“They are doing all they can with the money they have, but they don’t have it,” she said.

According to the Center for Climate Integrity’s 2021 report, more than 13,700 public schools that didn’t need cooling systems in 1970 now have HVAC systems or will spend more than $40 billion by 2025. I found that I had to install The report also found that more than 13,000 schools will need to upgrade their existing HVAC systems at a cost of over $414 million.

“Climate change is creating more and more hot days in spring and fall, and it’s definitely hurting learning,” said Richard Wiles, director of the Center for Climate Health. “As climate change accelerates, more schools will have to close due to excessive heat. We will be forced to spend.”

About half of public school districts need to update or replace multiple systems, such as HVAC and plumbing, and about a third of schools need HVAC system updates, according to a 2020 National Accounting Office survey. It has been found.

“HVAC and environmental issues are major concerns for schools,” said Mike Pickens, executive director of the National School Facilities Council.

Kelly Dutro, a high school teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said she has been dealing with air conditioning issues since her students started school on August 3.

“Students get very tired in the heat,” said Dutro. “This makes it difficult for children to concentrate and significantly reduces their participation in classes. We also receive complaints of headaches from exposure to the heat.”

“It’s hard. It’s really, really hard,” she said.

In Polk County, teachers are organizing to improve classroom conditions.

The union filed a class action lawsuit against Polk County Public Schools Because the classroom is hot.

As of Tuesday, 51 school sites in the district did not have fully functioning air conditioners, about one-third of all schools in the district, the Polk Education Association said.

“During my time as union chairman here, this has never happened,” said Yokam, who has led the union for four years.

Yoakam and Heath said they have spoken to teachers whose classroom temperatures have reached 90 degrees.

Polk County Public Schools said in a statement Thursday that it was “experiencing the hottest temperatures on record.” This has led to a surge in air conditioning problems around this time of year. ”

The district said it had received 755 work orders related to air conditioning issues since August 1 and has closed more than 600 so far. Some of these work orders included rooms with air conditioning running, but “in the extreme heat we are experiencing, the air conditioning system struggles to cool the room by more than 15-20 degrees. It is possible,” the paper said.

The district has assigned maintenance personnel from other industries to assist with work orders while maintenance personnel are working to complete any remaining repairs, and has also granted overtime pay for nights and weekends. said that

Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito Visgitis said poor ventilation in schools is not just a health issue, it’s an equity issue. In her district, “only 12 of her 54 buildings have air conditioning,” she said. The school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I think it’s a very bad equity issue that there are kids trying to go to these schools,” she said. “We all need air conditioning. We have to show that we care about our children by protecting them.”

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