Mcfalls' Idea To Junk School Heat-day Policy Gets Cold Shoulder

March 18, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

Once again, a steamy topic has Board of Education President Cheryl A. McFalls in the minority.

This hot issue has nothing to do with sex or AIDS, but whether to close schools when the mercury rises.

Parents should know schools could dismiss children early on humiddays when the temperature hits 95 degrees, just as they do on snowy days, said Vernon Smith, director of school support services.

McFalls says students should learn to take the heat, though her fellow members did not agree. There was no vote on the matter, but McFalls wasthe only one in the room full of school board members and personnel who argued against closing for heat.

"I can't believe the board isgoing to wimp out on this one," McFalls said. "The real world says you work when it's hot."

In the past, she had at least one or two members join her in opposing health materials or literature they said was too sexually graphic.

She said that unlike the danger posed byicy roads and unshoveled sidewalks, heat poses no safety hazards forchildren.

"It might be a little slower for them, a little more uncomfortable, but they can still learn," she said.

Last year, the schools closed two hours early on May 31 because of a heat wave. That morning, more than 100 parents called the school offices to ask why the schools weren't closed already. When they did close, about 30 moreparents called to criticize the decision, said W. Carey Gaddis, public information officer.

"I guess you can't keep everyone happy," she said.

Most of those 30 parents had children in air-conditioned schools, and questioned the logic of closing all 33 schools, when only 18 don't have air conditioning.

The problem is the bus schedule,Smith said. Many routes include three schools, and buses can't deliver one group home early and return in time to the air-conditioned buildings. Smith also said the air conditioning in some buildings was onthe blink those days.

Peter B. McDowell, supervisor of secondary education, said he remembers one day last spring at Sykesville MiddleSchool when sweat was dripping from students faces onto their work papers.

Dorothy Mangle, elementary education director, said some par

ents were concerned about children with asthma or other health problems. "An increasing proportion of children are accustomed to air-conditioned homes, air-conditioned cars," she said.

Heat alone is not dangerous to most school-age children and doesn't induce asthma, said Dr. Elizabeth Ruff, a pediatrician and director of child health at the Carroll County Health Department. But they can get uncomfortable and inattentive, she said.

"I don't know about you, but I can'twork very well when it's 99 degrees," she said. Ruff worries more when high school football players start training in mid-August in hot weather, after a summer of little activity.

"All of a sudden, they're doing all this exercise," she said. "That really can be dangerous."

Except for Howard County, which has air conditioning in all schools, most nearby counties have unwritten policies such as Carroll's. They let out early or close on rare occasions when it's hot and they close all buildings, even if they are air-conditioned.

Frederick County, which has the most structured policy, decides the night beforeto close the next day if extreme heat is expected to continue. It rarely is used, said spokeswoman Myra Treiber. When it is, only schoolswithout air conditioning are closed.

Once the school day has started, however, children wouldn't be sent home, Treiber said. Those in non-air-conditioned schools would either do non-strenuous work outside in the shade or be relocated to the nearest air-conditioned school.

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