Baltimore County school board votes to remove heat closure policy

Baltimore County school board votes to remove heat closure policy

The Baltimore County Board of Education voted Tuesday to abolish a controversial policy that forced the superintendent to close schools without air conditioning on excessively hot days.

The policy — which was put in place last summer — directed Superintendent Dallas Dance to close non-air conditioned schools on days when forecasts predicted the heat index would hit 90 degrees by 11 a.m.

Early in the 2016-17 school year, more than three dozen county schools were closed on four days under the policy. Additionally, sports practices, games and other events were canceled at the schools that were affected.

At Tuesday night's meeting, the vote to get rid of the policy was supported by seven members of the 12-member board.

Board member Romaine Williams, who chairs a review committee that had examined the policy, said the rule had tied the superintendent's hands.

"It was probably a bad idea to pass this policy to begin with," Williams said.

Earlier this month the review committee had recommended overturning the policy. Michele Prumo, school system chief of staff, said even without the policy Dance has authority to close, delay, or dismiss schools in emergency situations — including excessive heat.

But board member Ann Miller, who opposed deleting the policy, said in the past the superintendent had failed to close schools when needed on hot days.

She cited health issues that have been raised by parents of students who attend schools without air conditioning, and called the board's vote to dismiss the heat policy "offensive."

The board waived a requirement that the heat closure policy deletion be read at three meetings before approval — so it was introduced and voted on during the same meeting. Some board members objected to that as well, saying it stifled public comment.

The county and the school system are in the midst of a construction schedule to install air conditioning in all schools over the next several years. Dance said in January that by this fall, all but 13 county schools will have air conditioning.

Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

rpacella@baltsun.com

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