A heat wave forecast this week throughout the region has forced the closing of 10 schools in Baltimore County as other districts prepared to deal with temperatures over 90 degrees in each of the first three days of the new public school year.
In Baltimore City, the school system announced via Twitter that schools without air-conditioning would release three hours early Tuesday. More than 60 school buildings lack air conditioning or have “inadequate cooling,” according to the city schools website.
Baltimore County Public Schools on Monday issued an advisory that it was closing four high schools, four elementary schools and two special centers Tuesday. The alert was preceded by a tweet by the district’s chief of staff, Mychael Dickerson, announcing the decision.
The National Weather Service on Monday issued a hazardous weather outlook for the Baltimore-Washington region. It stated that “a combination of heat and humidity may result in heat index values of around 105 Tuesday through Thursday.”
“Due to excessive heat for Tuesday, Sept.4, 2018, the following BCPS schools and centers will be closed tomorrow,” Dickerson announced in a tweet Monday.
His list included the high schools, elementary schools and centers that do not have air conditioning: Dulaney, Lansdowne, Patapsco and Woodlawn high schools; and Bedford, Berkshire, Colgate and Dundalk elementary schools. It also included Campfield Early Learning Center and Catonsville Center for Alternative Studies.
Hot buildings in Baltimore County Public Schools system has been a political issue for years since Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot clashed with the late Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz over why so many of the district’s schools were not equipped with air conditioning.
The issue is likely to factor into Baltimore County’s first-ever election for school board as well.
Matt Gresick, a candidate whose school board district includes Lansdowne and Woodlawn high schools, said closures for heat are frustrating for parents who have scheduled for Tuesday to be the first day of school.
“Parents do get annoyed when they get closed because it brings up the question of, ‘Why us?’” Gresick said. “There needs to be a solution. Hopefully this can be resolved soon. It’s a burden on the community.”
The county school district is scheduled to install air conditioning at Patapsco and Woodlawn high schools and in Dundalk Elementary school next August. Berkshire and Colgate elementary schools are scheduled for 2020, and Bedford is set to be completed in three years. Plans for Dulaney and Lansdowne high schools depend on construction of entirely new schools.
Baltimore County administrators confer with principals and building managers to determine whether the schools without air conditioning need to be closed, Dickerson said.
“We take it day by day,” he added.
“It’s not acceptable,” said Edward Kitlowski, a candidate for school board from Loch Hill. “My concern would also be for schools like Loch Raven High School that have air conditioning that isn’t properly functioning.”
The situation in Baltimore also frustrated students.
In Baltimore City, about 65 schools are without air conditioning or have “inadequate cooling,” according to this list posted by the school system.
Shortly 8 p.m. Monday, the system announced Tuesday’s closures.
Students at Baltimore City College announced Monday night that they planned to hold a rally at noon at the high school to protest “early school closure on day one due to inadequate facilities (lack of AC),” according to a statement issued by student Henry Bethell, a senior.
“Half days compromise our education and are not made up like full days,” the statement reads. “This is no way to start the year.”
“This is a group of concerned students,” Bethel said in a statement.
Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said the “fact that more than 60 of our schools are operating without air conditioning indicates how dire the need is for increased funding for our schools.”
“No child, or educator, should have to try to learn in a classroom that’s extremely hot,” English said in an email. “This places a huge damper on the learning environment.”
System policy calls for those schools to dismiss three hours early on days when the outside heat index reaches 100 degrees by 10:30 a.m. “or when the interior temperature in a majority of classrooms in most schools reaches 85 degrees, and students cannot be relocated to cooler areas of buildings.”
The district established a policy earlier this year for closing schools amid extreme heat conditions. “While the district works hard to open all buildings every school day, in extreme heat a decision may be made to close these non-AC schools or dismiss early if conditions in buildings could pose health problems for students or staff,” the policy states.
The county’s policy for how it decides when to close schools is less clear. The policy is here.