Education

Despite Frigid Winter Temperatures, Students Are Waking Up To Unheated Classrooms

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As east coast temperatures begin to dip after an unusually warm December, students in major school systems across the country are sitting in unheated classrooms wearing winter jackets.

In Baltimore, for example, temperature lows are in the teens and the city’s health commissioner sent out a “Code Blue” advisory on Monday night instructing homeless residents and other vulnerable populations to stay inside. But at Baltimore City College High School, students say the heaters aren’t working. Through the CityBloc Twitter account, a political grassroots collective of students against social injustice in Baltimore, students have been tweeting at Baltimore City Schools to raise concerns.

Baltimore schools have problems with extreme temperatures in the summer, too. Summer school programs had to be canceled once in July and schools had to be closed during the second week of school in September due to high heat and humidity and lack of air conditioning in schools. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called the lack of air conditioning “disgraceful,” according to The Baltimore Sun.

Baltimore City Schools did not return ThinkProgress’ request for comment by the time of publication. But not long after parents and community members called in to complain about the lack of heat, school district officials did announce that Baltimore City College High School and an elementary school would close early.

Students and parents are having the same issues in New York City, where the temperature low is 23 degrees. Several people have tweeted at the city’s Department of Education about chilly classrooms this week.

These issues aren’t new. In New York City, complaints about freezing classrooms have risen 46 percent over the past five years, NBC New York reported. The school with the largest number of complaints was International Leadership Charter High School in the Bronx.

In Chicago, public schools closed for two days last January when temperatures were particularly low. Some people complained that the cold temperatures weren’t worth closing school for, but it is certainly a safer alternative for schools that don’t have heat. Earlier that month, two Chicago schools had issues with heat not working in several classrooms during very cold days, according to WGNTV.com, forcing students to wear coats, hats, and gloves in class.

The Philadelphia School District had heating problems at several of its schools last January when temperatures were hitting record lows, forcing the district to close schools or place students in crowded classrooms where the heat actually worked. And schools in the south have also struggled to handle exceptionally cold temperatures, saying their buildings are not equipped to handle the cold when freezing temperatures hit the area.

One of the major challenges for schools is updating antiquated heating and air conditioning systems in very old buildings and conserving energy. Often, the heat will be turned off at night in large school buildings to conserve energy, but it could take a significant amount of time for the school to heat up again, especially when temperatures are hitting record lows.

Another issue is inadequate funding. Although Baltimore ranks 20th among the country’s 500 largest school districts in terms of spending, when accounting for costs deducted for the central office, you see that traditional public schools don’t receive much funding per student, at only $5,336 per student next year. Last year, during controversies over sweltering classrooms in the summer, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said that air conditioning improvements would get done faster if the state provided more money for school construction.

There may be more struggles on the horizon for Baltimore students. The school board votes on whether to close five schools Tuesday night, ABC affiliate ABC News2 reported. The CEO of Baltimore Public Schools, Gregory Thornton, said these five schools were recommended due to attendance, academic performance and how the buildings were being used, but parents and school board members say that closing the schools will only contribute to more instability in their communities.