Children shiver in unheated classrooms while Maryland’s governor plays the blame game

Baltimore schools had to close because classrooms were too cold for students.

CREDIT: Danni Williams/Facebook
CREDIT: Danni Williams/Facebook

Baltimore’s public schools closed on Thursday after teachers, parents, and students said there was a lack of sufficient heating in classrooms. Students in some schools wore winter coats, hats, and gloves on Wednesday, worrying parents and teachers. Four Baltimore schools closed on Wednesday due to facilities problems, but the rest of Baltimore schools stayed open. The schools that closed on Wednesday were three elementary/middle schools and an elementary school. Some schools also closed on Tuesday due to water problems and problems with heating systems.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) insists that funding is not the reason that school conditions are so poor for students, however.

Advertisement

“We are all for making the improvements to the schools, and building new schools, which is why we have record-funded them,” Hogan said during a public works meeting on Wednesday, according to WBFF.

Edie House-Foster, Baltimore city schools spokesperson, told the Baltimore Sun, “We have many schools with leaky windows and outdated heating systems that have a hard time keeping up. With extreme temperatures, we have the added challenge of freezing pipes and water main breaks.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English wrote a letter to the Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) CEO Sonja Brookins Santelises saying that the school conditions were “inhumane” and that the union received several calls about heating problems at schools.

Hogan released a statement later on Wednesday afternoon that clarified his earlier statements and appeared to shift blame, which read, “While individual school facility decisions are ultimately made at the city level, the governor will continue to work closely with Baltimore City leadership to provide any possible support.”

Advertisement

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford went a step further when he tweeted, “Our Administration has fully funded Baltimore City Schools for the entirety of our time in office. In fact, we provided more than the formulas called for. The money is not reaching the classroom – ask [school headquarters on] North Ave. why?”

An over 600-page report released in 2016 found that it would take an additional $1.9 billion in state funding and $1 billion in local funding to adequately fund the state’s schools. For Baltimore, schools would require $358 million annually. There is a state commission in charge of updating the funding formula for Maryland public schools, but it is delaying policy recommendations until after 2018 state elections, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Ben Jealous, former NAACP president who announced last year that he would run for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s 2018 gubernatorial election, tweeted a video on Tuesday decrying the current conditions and said “lack of basic infrastructure to make sure our children are warm in schools and that school can go on unabated without children shivering in their classrooms is a stark reminder of the price of underfunding our schools.”

Jeffrey San Filippo, a seventh and eighth grade history teacher at Calverton Elementary/Middle School told Baltimore Brew on Wednesday that he didn’t know why Baltimore Public School officials tweeted that they were confident buildings would be sufficiently heated when it was so cold inside the schools.

“How do they determine what buildings will open when they have conditions like this?” he said.

Aaron Maybin, a former NFL linebacker who now runs a foundation that supports student artwork in Baltimore, talked to Baltimore students about their cold classrooms on Wednesday.

“I’m very very very very very very very cold,” said one student.

“Why do ya’ll feel like people allow something like to happen?” Maybin said.

Maybin tweeted on Wednesday, “…our kids don’t deserve this.”

In Frederick Douglass High School, there was a pipe burst during the winter break, which resulted in flooding in one classroom. A teacher whose classroom was under the flooded classroom had to teach in a basement and other teachers taught in the library because their classrooms were too cold, Jesse Schneiderman, a social studies teacher at Frederick Douglass High School, told Baltimore Brew.

Advertisement

Not Without Black Women, which describes itself as a “movement of everyday Black women” that does mentoring, community service, and political advocacy, organized an action on Facebook, “Too Cold to Learn,” that urges people to come to a Baltimore City Public Schools board meeting on Jan. 9. to speak up about cold classrooms.

One of the group’s organizers, Brittany Oliver, told The Real News that the lack of heat in schools is “a civil and human rights violation.”

“Not Without Black Women is encouraging people to show up to the next Baltimore City Public Schools board meeting because protecting children is a women’s rights issue, especially for Black women in a predominantly Black city,” Oliver told the publication. “Baltimore City has been plagued by institutionalized racism for decades. Two years after the Baltimore Uprising, we must grapple with history and move forward at applying race-equitable frameworks with community leadership to resolve structural inequities that we face today. Our city is in a state of emergency, so let’s treat it as such.”