Dozens of schools in cities across the country are shutting down early this week or reverting to remote learning as hot weather and improper air conditioning make some classrooms untenable.
In Philadelphia, more than 100 schools will dismiss students early Tuesday and Wednesday because of extreme heat forecast this week. The School District of Philadelphia said in a statement that it has been “monitoring temperatures in the 100 schools that do not have sufficient cooling systems” and will dismiss them three hours early and cancel after-school activities because of the weather forecast.
“We realize that early dismissals, especially those made the day before, can present challenges for many families. Please know that these decisions, which we do not make lightly, are always made with the safety of our students and staff as our top priority,” the district said.
The closures in Philadelphia came a day after Baltimore City Public Schools said that nearly two dozen schools without air conditioning would close early on Monday and Tuesday “due to forecasted high temperatures.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the district website said in an alert that the schools would continue to dismiss students early through Friday.
The early dismissals come at the tail end of a summer during which heat waves swept across the country, with several states seeing record-breaking triple-digit high temperatures, and millions of people falling under heat warnings and advisories, according to the NASA Earth Observatory.
The warmer weather has shown little sign of abating as the country edges toward Labor Day weekend. California, for example, is expected to be hit with a potentially record-breaking heat wave this week, with temperatures reaching as high as the low 100s Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
In San Diego, issues with the air conditioning system forced Rancho Bernardo High School and Bernardo Heights Middle School to shut down early last week, a change in schedule that will continue through at least Wednesday, officials said, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune and the calendars on the websites for both schools.
San Diego County will be under an excessive heat warning beginning Wednesday, with temperatures possibly climbing to 109 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Shutdowns have also occurred in places where the temperatures have not swung to the extreme for extended periods, but where school infrastructure still is not equipped to keep students cool.
In Cleveland, Ohio, where temperatures have been in the upper 70s and lower 80s recently, nearly a dozen schools went virtual Monday, when the high was 90, “due to excessive heat in their buildings,” the Cleveland Metropolitan School District said.
Eric Gordon, the CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, said in a statement to NBC affiliate WKYC that he asked the district facilities team to “explore using some of the air-quality funds” available under the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan in order to buy portable air-conditioning units for the schools. The Biden administration has urged schools to use funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to improve their ventilation systems. Gordon said a majority of its more than 90 schools have air conditioning.
The school closures highlight longstanding problems schools have faced with maintaining and improving infrastructure and preparing for climate change, issues that have become more critical during the Covid pandemic.
Nearly half of K-12 educators who responded to a 2021 EdWeek Research Center survey said heating and cooling were urgent concerns in their school buildings.
In May, one in four educators and school officials said climate change was impacting their school or district, according to a survey of educators by the EdWeek Research Center.
Those concerns spilled into the public in Columbus, Ohio, early last week, when teachers in the state’s largest school district went on strike over concerns that included air conditioning.
The Columbus school board and the Columbus Education Association union reached a conceptual agreement to end the strike on Thursday, a day after students started the school year remotely.
In a post on social media, the Columbus Education Association said it had won a guarantee that by the end of the contract, all student learning areas and union member work areas would be climate controlled, including installing HVAC systems in buildings with no HVAC and partial HVAC systems.