School Climate & Safety

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the School

By Ross Brenneman — September 03, 2013 2 min read
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America, it’s hot.

In the most literal case of school climate problems, schools around the nation have sent their students home over the last couple weeks due to extreme temperatures.

The inverse of snow days, “heat days,” as the Associated Press details, occur when a school can’t guarantee a temperature that any reasonable human being can endure while being expected to learn. When a student is sweating just from sitting up, concentration becomes a luxury.

Often, the problems come down to sustained air conditioning. Many schools do not have the facilities to accommodate high temperatures, which aren’t a problem during most of the usual September-June school year. Factor in a couple dozen warm bodies and things can go from bad to worse.

Last week, schools in Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, and Minneapolis closed down due to heat.

Here’s the forecast map for today, via the Weather Channel, just to show you the baseline:

That’s just heat, so it doesn’t include the effects of humidity. Here’s a better map, that I made, to flesh out details from the previous map and highlight some of the more problematic trends:

Or, put another way:

When you think about all of the school climate factors that already affect children—nutrition, mental health, social-emotional development, instruction, safety—leaving them charbroiled won’t likely be helpful, as the AP reports:

Vic Zimmerman, the school superintendent in the central Illinois community of Monticello, said there is simply no point in keeping kids in class. Some of his district's students were given Popsicles just to get them through morning reading time."

Why is this now becoming a prominent issue? Because the school year continues to lengthen in many areas, a result of growing class time and district needs. That pushes the school year earlier into summer, for some, but without consideration of certain facility needs, like better air conditioning. And, probably, students at the most financially struggling schools are least likely to have quality air conditioning.

OK, generations have survived schools without air conditioning, and maybe it’s not that hot. But I don’t buy for a second that the former is a valid reason not to install sweet, sweet coolant. “It builds character!” is not a great counterargument to the child who is sweating all over her test. As Zimmerman says, at some point, districts are just wasting everyone’s time. If schools think that hunger acts as a sufficient enough health distraction to warrant breakfast and free-lunch programs, then why, districts should ask, would heat stroke be any different?

But hang on just a bit longer, students; winter is coming.

Full disclosure: The author is from Michigan, a state known well for its aversion to the blistering thermal wasteland so characteristic of most of the rest of the country.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.