At city schools town hall, Baltimore parents and advocates seek answers on facilities issues

More than 100 Baltimore parents and advocates came to angrily question city school district officials about poor school building conditions and a variety of other education issues at a town hall Monday.

The district held the meeting at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in response to widespread facilities failures earlier this month, which left many children shivering in schools with faulty heating systems and pipes. Images of students huddled in parkas went viral, prompting finger-pointing from city and state officials and calls for additional funding to be directed toward the city with Maryland's oldest education infrastructure.

"We understand the facilities problems and the systemic racism and the underfunding, but we need more communication," said Joseph Kane, president of the Waverly Elementary/Middle School parent-teacher organization. "And we need more money going to Baltimore City Public Schools from Baltimore City."

With emotions running high, city schools CEO Sonja Santelises acknowledged that parents had the right to be upset. She pledged that the district is in the process of instituting new protocols to ensure children aren't kept in frigid classrooms.

District officials said facilities workers now take the temperature in every city school before the day begins and ensure that all areas are kept above 60 degrees, or else students will be moved.

"The community has the right to expect that buildings for young people are the right climate," Santelises said. "We have now set targets for what needs to be done. ... When a parent drops their child off at school, they shouldn't have to leave wondering, 'Is my child's classroom going to be too hot or too cold?'"

Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English met with district officials Monday afternoon to discuss creating a formal extreme event inclement weather policy, for both cold and warm weather. She said the policy is necessary "to avoid placing our educators and students back into environments that are not conductive to learning."

Some speakers at the town hall told families that they needed to take their passion to Annapolis and lobby elected officials for more money for schools. Others called for another audit of city schools' spending, while some cheered at the idea of an elected school board.

Many parents just took the opportunity of having the Santelises’ ear, in a meeting that ran far over its intended two hours. They brought up subjects ranging from problematic substitute teachers to inadequate special education to lack of school supplies.

"Do our babies not matter," cried one mother.

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