Baltimore County's superintendent of schools now has a clear directive for when to close non-air conditioned schools — it's when the heat index reaches 90 degrees.
The Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education passed a policy Aug. 9 directing the superintendent to close non-air conditioned schools if the heat index is forecast to reach 90 degrees the following day. Ideally, the closure would be announced by 8 p.m. the preceding night.
County schools use standards for heat index defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which describes heat index as how hot it feels when relative humidity is factored in with the air temperature.
Anna Surr, of Dundalk, was the only member of the public to speak at the meeting about the policy. Her daughter, headed into 10th grade this fall at Patapsco High School, has attended un-airconditioned schools in Baltimore County since kindergarten, Surr said.
"I'm really really happy about this school closure policy for heat," Surr said. "I'm really happy you listened to us."
Surr asked the board to consider other policies to reduce heat in schools, such as switching out old theater lights with more modern fixtures that give off less heat. Her daughter is in the theater program at Patapsco, she said, and temperatures can become elevated even into October.
The Policy Review Committee's Chairwoman Romaine Williams thanked the board after it passed the policy change.
"This was the right thing to do for the public, I appreciate your support," Williams said.
The board asked the Policy Review Committee to examine the system's emergency closure policy last September. A public hearing was held in January. According to a summary of the policy change "much discussion arose concerning student and staff comfort as well as the importance of providing timely information to parents."
At the start of this school year 34 of the county's 173 schools will be without air conditioning. According to the school system's schedule, most schools will have air conditioning by August 2017; five will have air conditioning by 2018 and four more will have air conditioning by August 2019.
At the start of the Board of Education meeting in Towson Tuesday evening, Superintendent Dallas Dance said days taken off for excessive heat at the start of this school year will be eligible for a waiver from the state's 180-day school year mandate.