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Snow days force school closures due to heaps of snow and ice – and now rising temperatures across the country are forcing some schools to institute “heat days.” As the AP reported this week, heat waves in the Midwest prompted Chicago teachers to greet their students with bottles of water, fans, and wet towels. The old brick classrooms where the students learn are generally unequipped with air conditioning, and the district has little money to retrofit the sweltering old buildings.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel stated last week that the nation’s third largest school district did not have the estimated one billion dollars to provide air conditioning for its 700 schools. Without relief from the heat, teachers and students either must take heat days, or consider adjusting the school schedule. Many districts across the country have been shifting school years so that they begin after Labor Day when the weather is cooler. However, the extra days needed for standardized testing and to make up for longer holidays are pushing start times back into August.
As noted by the AP, concerns over sweaty seats go beyond simple comfort. Excessive heat makes it difficult to maintain a body temperature of 98.6 degrees, causing some children to fall asleep, become sluggish, or faint in class. Children tend to sweat less than adults, and the added challenge of trying to remain functional while also focusing on schoolwork makes learning feel like a chore.
A combination of environmental pressures and economic constraints are leaving schools struggling for a solution. While many could benefit from green architecture that incorporates passive cooling or air conditioning powered by renewable energy, most of these institutions simply do not have the money to retrofit. Instead, kids are being sent home until things cool off.
Images via Wikicommons user Marlith.