Heat wave prompts early school dismissals

Advocates are calling for air conditioned classrooms to limit lost instruction time due to excessive heat.

In Plainfield, school’s out early.

“It’s good because if we stayed there we would be sweating and melt or something,” said second grader Keyly Portillo.

Sweat hardly describes it for Portillo. Mercury reached well above 90 today, making for hazardous conditions in some classrooms. Across the state dozens of school districts called for early dismissal.

“There’s no AC in the school so that’s why the kids leaving it early yesterday and today because it’s so hot,” said mother Anna Mino.

How hard is it to learn when it’s hot out? “Really hard,” Portillo said. “We had a test today.”

But finals are looming, end-of-year projects wrapping up. Parents and education advocates worry about lost classroom time. Some say the unexpected heat wave is the best example of a clear divide between affluent and poorer school districts, which are more likely to have antiquated buildings lacking air conditioning, even window shades or windows that open.

“Off the top of my head we have roughly 30 to 40 thousand students in New Jersey who are actually not attending school for a full day because of the temperature control,” Jarell Blakeley from the New Jersey Work Environment Council said.

Blakeley is part of a coalition lobbying the New Jersey Legislature to take up a bill mandating a temperature control plan for schools.

“So what would happen is they would have a plan, they would have a document that outlines policies and strategies,” he said.

“There is no legislation available right now that addresses the needs of school buildings when they go into either excessive heat or excessive cold, if the heaters are not working. More times than not it is dealing with excessive heat,” said Marie Blistan, NJEA vice president.

Members of the Healthy Schools Now group also want the Legislature to take steps toward mitigating the issues, finding money to add air conditioners, even fix simple structural problems.

“Today we had several teachers reporting that classrooms were within 101 to even 133 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Javier Fresse, chairperson of work-site health and safety for the Paterson Education Association.

That’s in Paterson school district where more than a dozen buildings are over a hundred years old.

Plainfield school district officials declined to go on camera, but at least one representing the Stillman Elementary School — which has somewhere around 350 K-5 students — said the poor ventilation in some of these classrooms is almost unbearable.

“They just come out sweating,” said parent Helen Rodriguez. “It’s worse inside than outside.”

“We have students whose asthmatic conditions get triggered from the excessive heat, such as what is happening, and/or we have nose bleeds, we have stomach upsets, headaches, extreme fatigue and so on,” said Blistan.

Adding while some students breeze through the day in a climate controlled room, others are being asked to put up with more than their share. No word yet when or if the bill will be posted.

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