Baltimore classrooms top 100 degrees: 'It was impossible to learn.'

The temperature in a Patterson High School classroom hit 102 degrees Tuesday, the second day in a row at the Southeast Baltimore school that the mercury topped triple digits.

Students and teachers brought extra water bottles and small fans to try to beat the heat. But at one of the nearly 50 city schools that lack air conditioning, there was little relief .

“We are doing everything we can to install air conditioning in our schools to make them more comfortable,” said Keith Scroggins, the system's chief operations officer.

But with limited funding, the process is expected to take five years. Five schools got air conditioning over the summer, and another is scheduled to get it in the spring. Patterson is soon getting a whole new building, with air conditioning.

With temperatures in Baltimore reaching the low 90s Monday and the mid-80s Tuesday, that left thousands of students sweltering.

A frustrated teacher tweeted a photo Monday showing a thermometer inside a classroom that read 114 degrees.

Patterson sophomore Ahyonia Price said she loves to learn. Usually, the concepts taught in her honors biology class come easily to her.

But Monday, the 16-year-old felt crippled by a pounding headache. Her asthma started acting up. She put her head onto her desk instead of working on how to translate DNA to RNA. It was just too hot, she said.

"It was impossible to learn," Price said.

Kerry Graham teaches English in a second-floor classroom. She keeps the lights off and hangs curtains over windows to block the sun. She has purchased portable fans and positioned them around the room.

But at 9:15 a.m., Graham’s classroom had already reached 88 degrees, according to an electronic thermometer. It was 71 degrees outside.

By 2:15 p.m., it was 102.

“I taught in Nigeria, and it didn’t feel like this,” Graham said.

Graham had to shout out questions about “Antigone” over the whir of her fans. Students stepped out of class to grab drinks of water.

“It’s become the reality,” she said.

Patterson is one of up to 28 schools to be renovated or replaced under the city’s $1 billion 21st Century Schools building program. Patterson High School was constructed in 1960.

“At least Patterson is on the drawing board to be a completely new school in the next couple of years,” Scroggins said.

Scroggins said the district may choose to dismiss schools early due to excessive heat on a “case-by-case basis,” but doing so creates other complications.

“Those children miss out on educational opportunities,” he said.

English teacher Allison Greco called the heat an “injustice.”

“Look at what this says to the kids in Baltimore City, the majority of whom are black or brown and are just supposed to suck it up,” she said. “It’s continually teaching them they’re not worth what someone five miles away is.”

Greco’s second-floor classroom reached 95 degrees by 1:05 p.m. Tuesday.

Scroggins said the district works with principals to “rearrange things” within the school when temperatures spike. That can mean asking teachers to hold classes in the cafeteria or other cooler spaces, he said.

“We’re trying to work with him to see if creative measures can be taken to try and make the situation better,” Scroggins said.

Patterson High School Principal Vance Benton was not available for comment.

Gov. Larry Hogan ordered all Maryland schools to open after Labor Day this year, in part, he said, to help students in schools without air conditioning.

The state Board of Public Works voted last year to withhold millions of dollars in school construction money from the city and county unless officials agreed to install air conditioning in all classrooms by the start of the school year. They were the only school districts in the state with a large number of schools without air conditioning.

The board reinstated the money in January, after the districts presented plans to cool all their buildings within the next few years.

Baltimore County outfitted 20 schools with air conditioning over the summer, leaving 13 schools without it.

The high in Baltimore Wednesday is forecast to be 88 degrees. As the week goes on, temperatures are expected to cool to typical fall weather. Thursday and Friday’s temperatures are forecast in the 70s.

“The heat wave is always temporary,” Scroggins said Tuesday. “Today is cooler than yesterday.”

trichman@baltsun.com

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