Of late, the district has taken heat from local parents, who are complaining increasingly that the heat is making their kids sick and that this has prompted some to pull children out of school on hot days.
But chilling the out situation could prove problematic. There are a number of factors involved, including the relatively short span of hot weather, the cost of providing air conditioning and convincing school district officials such a change is necessary and needs to be made sooner rather than later.
The district has a heat “protocol” in place, said Ursula Kroemer, the district’s chief public information officer.
“All schools operate under our hot weather operations guidelines,” said Kroemer.
District heat guidelines include the following:
- All district schools have “hot weather” plans in place for continued operations of schools during periods of extremely hot weather.
- The district does not close schools due to hot weather but may call for minimum days at some schools under certain circumstances.
- The safety and well-being of students and staff are a top priority. As a result, schools have a number of guidelines in place for planning instruction during hot weather.
- Elementary teachers may rearrange the daily schedule so that basic skills subjects are taught at the optimal time. Recess activities are limited to quiet games. Physical education at all grade levels are limited to less strenuous activities and/or rescheduled.
- Cooler areas of schools buildings and grounds — shaded lawn areas or rooms with better cross-ventilation or air-conditioned buildings in media centers, cafeterias or auditoriums — are used when available.
- Athletic activities and before- and after-school programs and practices may be canceled or rescheduled due to hot weather.
Kroemer noted the district has identified the 2,000 hottest classrooms across the district and is completing the first phase of installation of A/C in those.
For some parents in beach schools, like Janelle Sherako of PB Southwest and Sandy Watts of PB North Shore Highlands, existing heat protocols are insufficient.
“My son came home from school early with signs of heat exhaustion and threw up,” Sherako said.
“I took my daughter out of school recently because of the heat,” said Watts. “Our principal was home sick from heat stroke. She is also keeping records of how many kids are leaving early due to heat.”
Lisa Bar of PB North said existing district heat protocols don’t consider special-needs children or those riding school buses.
“None of the SDUSD buses have A/C, and temperatures have reached over 100 degrees,” Bar said. “The (bus) routes can last for an hour or more. Many children cannot access water or lower windows themselves.
“The SDUSD ‘policy’ can be changed on a whim. They have some number they picked out that has nothing to do with the actual temperatures in various classrooms, lunchrooms or on the buses.
“It's all about money and not about the safety of the children or staff. I'm extremely disappointed in the ‘leadership’ regarding this issue.”
PB resident Mike Spangler concurred that more needs to be done to upgrade the district’s heat protocol.
“The lack of A/C units in beach community schools has gotten out of hand,” he said. “It seems that every year, our ‘two weeks of unbearable heat' has increased in length, and with the proposed school year to start a week or two earlier (in 2016), it is inevitably going to be worse. It seems that there is a lot of press and hype around the heat in schools.”
Then fall starts, temperatures drop and the community seems to forget about the issue.”
Spangler said the “time is now to either raise funds or get SDUSD to place A/C units in all classrooms. Yes, it's a huge expense for purchase and install; however, they would only be used a few weeks out of the year.… I am sure the offices of SDUSD have nice cool buildings, so they probably do not understand how hard it is to teach, or even to be taught, in these sweltering conditions. It's just not fair for the kids and teachers to be in these conditions.”
Sue Bakley of PB Pacifica offered one possible solution.
“Harness the power of our San Diego sunshine by installing solar panels,” she suggested. “Most school buildings have flat roofs that could easily support the panels. Once installed and running, clean, free power is plentiful — including air conditioning.”
Dr. Michael McQuary, SDUSD Trustee-District C, which includes Pacific Beach, said he’s personally experienced the pain of those in non-air conditioned schools.
“My heart goes out to the students, school personnel, parents, and our volunteer partners, who endured the high and extreme temperature during the first week of school,” McQuary said noting he was previously a teacher/principal in non-airconditioned schools in the Central San Joaquin Valley where temperatures were frequently in the high 90s and low 100s.
“As I stated at the board meeting Sept. 15, ‘These high and extreme temperatures (in our schools) were unacceptable then, and they are unacceptable now,’ ” McQuary said.
McQuary noted the school board Sept. 15 voted 5-0 to direct Superintendent Marten “to have staff develop a plan to equip every classroom and critical space with air conditioning. This action authorized the superintendent, district and school leadership teams to examine this serious concern with the idea of addressing immediate needs, and proactively addressing what will be a more challenging future with more frequent days of extreme temperatures. … The district does care and is concerned.
“School temperatures are recorded hourly at each cluster of schools. A half-day was called for the first time in the history of SDUSD last year by Superintendent Marten, when the temperature trigger was reached. And last week, we were close to the temperature trigger but did not reach it as defined by current policy. … Clearly the existing policy was not working and needed to be reviewed and revised. I look forward to superintendent, staff, student, parent, and community partner input as to suggestions and recommendations for moving forward.”