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News Maryland Baltimore County Catonsville

Westowne Elementary parents stage walkouts to beat heat

Westowne Elementary School parents cited indoor temperatures exceeding 90 degrees for gathering at the school Friday afternoon to sign their children out early.

"When the indoor temperatures become so unbearable, there has to be an early dismissal policy," said parent Jennifer Jones.

She and a group of about 10 other parents arrived at the school between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. for their second walkout, the first being Thursday at 2 p.m. The parents signed out more than a dozen students.

Friday was the third consecutive day with an outdoor high temperature over 90 degrees.

They gathered on the corner at the school bus lane and Harlem Lane to protest the Baltimore County Public Schools policy that references the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's outdoor heat index to determine early dismissal.

"It's very subjective," said school spokeswoman Diana Spencer. "It depends on a lot of factors."

Spencer said the county follows heat indexes at all county schools throughout the day and makes a decision when the index reaches "levels of concern."

"We are following the recommendations of NOAA and we are monitoring the outdoor temperature and humidity," Spencer said.

Friday, students and parents held signs reading "Baltimore County B.O.E. (Board of Education) Doesn't Care" and "Please make my school cool."

"We're looking for some kind of addendum to the policy for schools without cooling systems," said Jones, who kept her 11-year-old daughter, Samantha Stuart, home for the entire day Friday. "We just need to have acceptable conditions in the school."

"It was over 100 degrees in the classroom yesterday and it's just going to retain the heat," said her husband, George Stuart.

"The sun is beating on them and there's no circulation," he said.

Westowne is the only school in the Catonsville area without air conditioning and not on the list to receive air conditioning.

Until the school is on the list, Jones said they are asking for temporary cooling measures.

"We need some fans, room darkening curtains," she said.

In addition to difficult learning conditions, parents cited heat stress, headaches, stomachaches and hives as reasons for removing their kids from the school Friday.

Gillian Higgins, a 9-year-old third grader at Westowne, was one of the students signed out early for health-related issues.

"I've gone to the nurse the past two or three days," for headaches and stomachaches, she said.

"I really can't focus, I can't understand what the teacher is saying," Gillian said. "Just standing outside is a little cooler than inside.

"We're not even on the list to get air conditioning and everyone else is," she said.

Westowne Principal Patricia Vogel said she understands why parents are taking their kids out of school. She said she and the rest of her staff are doing their best to keep the kids comfortable.

"The county is monitoring the temperature in the rooms and they're making sure all of our vents are working properly," Vogel said. "Buildings that are old without air conditioning do get hot in the afternoon.

"We've asked them (students) not to race and run at lunchtime because there is no place for them to cool down in the building," she said.

Vogel urged parents to, "send water bottles with the children" and encourage them not to get too rowdy during lunch and recess.

"I certainly understand the parents," she said. "But I think the school is trying to be as proactive as possible."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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