Teachers and students say its hard to learn when you’re sweaty and tired. At the same time, families lament that kids in some neighborhoods miss out on precious class time when schools dismiss them early.
“Today’s announcement about Baltimore City Public Schools without air conditioning closing early due to the extreme heat does not come as a surprise,” Baltimore Teachers Union President Diamonté Brown said in a statement. “Our scholars continue to suffer academically because their instructional time is interrupted due to these extreme conditions."
District officials, however, cautioned that too many fans in one building could strain the aging systems and cause an electrical overload.
The problem stirs heated debate in Annapolis, where politicians have long traded blame over Baltimore’s classroom conditions.
Gov. Larry Hogan in 2016 threatened to withhold millions of dollars of sorely-needed construction funding if the district didn’t develop a plan to install AC across all schools.
The district developed a roadmap for installing window units and split systems in all non-air conditioned schools for a cost of roughly $30 million. Officials planned to finish by the 2022-2023 school year, according to district documents.
But the district underestimated how much it would cost to upgrade electrical systems to support such systems.
Officials decided to change course and install integrated units instead, which they determined would be more cost- and energy efficient. These devices provide heating as well as cooling. On some winter days, schools have had to close due to frigid classrooms.
In the meantime, the district has installed sensors that alert facilities staff if temperatures spike in certain classrooms, and have crafted an inclement weather policy dictating when students should be dismissed early because of cooling problems.
In Baltimore County, the six schools that still lack air conditioning remained open all day despite the heat.
District spokesman Brandon Oland says that on hot days, administrators will check-in with principals at those half dozen schools and see how it feels on the ground.
“We felt like we were at a point today where we didn’t feel the need to close schools early due to heat,” he said.
Yara Cheikh, who serves as PTA vice president at the un-air conditioned Dulaney High School, said that decision left students and teachers in classrooms that in some cases topped 90 degrees.
“When the classrooms are that hot, the students find it hard to bring any energy to their coursework,” she said. “It’s draining for teachers, some of whom are on the third floor of an un-air conditioned building.”
Just because the county has only a handful of buildings without air conditioning, Cheikh said, doesn’t mean their situations should be overlooked.