Springtime heat forces schools in city to dismiss students early

May 14, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Students from more than 20 city schools were sent home early this week because unseasonably high temperatures made it uncomfortable -- or in some cases, unsafe -- for them to stay in class.

School system officials said yesterday that they think the worst of the school closings are behind them because students are off today for teacher training and weather forecasts show lower temperatures next week.

But this week was particularly trying for the school system because of the heat.

On Tuesday, officials closed all city schools about lunchtime, after temperatures reached 92 degrees by 11 a.m. The system's policy is to send students home if temperatures reach 90 by 11 a.m.

Over the past two days, at least a handful of city schools have shut early, and some did not open, because of high temperatures.

"The vast majority of our schools are not air-conditioned," said school system chief of staff Jeffery N. Grotsky.

"And we know that if it's 90 degrees outside, especially in our brick buildings, it can reach 100 degrees. So we really close the buildings for health reasons."

In addition, "the temperatures in the building are such that no effective education can take place," school system Chief Operating Officer Carlton Epps said.

Many of the schools that closed early this week have central air-conditioning, Grotsky said, but the cooling systems have broken down.

Because those schools were built with air-conditioning, he said, they lack windows that open and cannot be ventilated.

Older schools may not have air-conditioning but have larger windows that can be opened.

One school, Highlandtown Elementary No. 215, was hit particularly hard by the heat. Its youths were out of school Tuesday, Wednesday and yesterday because of a malfunctioning air-conditioning system.

Epps said new parts have been ordered and should be in next week.

"We are making great strides to make sure that we can minimize any more lost time to this school year," he said.

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