Thermostats Drop; Questions Raised

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It’s now clear that schools in Vermont have leeway in deciding where to set their thermostats, after some confusion over state policy on just how hot, or cold, a classroom should be.

Robert J. Reardon, the principal of Essex High School in Essex Junction, was trying to cut energy costs late last fall. The school thermostats are normally set at 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter, and he decided to perform a one-week trial, lowering it to 65. He notified students and parents that the change would take effect the week students returned from winter break. That week, he walked to different areas of the 35-year-old building and evaluated the temperatures.

“When we got back that first week, there were some cold spots,” Mr. Reardon recounted in an interview last week. “We asked teachers: ‘If you’re feeling unusually cold, please let us know. If you’re feeling unusually hot, please let us know.’ ”

As a result of testing the temperature and listening to staff feedback, the administration raised the temperature in one area of the building.

Mr. Reardon said he never heard any complaints about the cold from students or parents.

Then, at the end of January, a reporter from TheBurlington Free Press visited the 1,583-student school to write a story about the cooler settings. The night before the story ran prominently in the newspaper, according to Mr. Reardon, the reporter called to inform him that the school was in violation of state regulations, which she said required school thermostats to be set at 68 degrees or higher.

That interpretation turned out to be wrong. According to Jill G. Remick, a spokeswoman for the Vermont Department of Education, the state does not have temperature standards for schools. The “regulation” in question was actually a recommendation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration advocating an indoor school temperature of 68 to 76 degrees. The newspaper published a correction Feb. 5.

“It’s something that comes up quite a bit here,” Ms. Remick said. “As long as the students are able to learn and the teachers don’t feel it’s extreme, we don’t see a need to have formal regulations.”

Mr. Reardon, who sets the thermostat in his office at 62 degrees, will review heating bills to see how much his school is saving.

Vol. 25, Issue 23, Page 15

Published in Print: February 15, 2006, as Thermostats Drop; Questions Raised
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