Dozens of parents and teachers turned out recently to tell the Indian Prairie School Board that hot elementary schools are no long just uncomfortable during major heat events, they have become dangerous.
“There is going to be a death,” said Paula Jackson, a support teacher at White Eagle Elementary, told the board. “I saw that student being carried with blue lips and white skin. I saw him being packed with ice to bring down his core temperature. There were four other boys that came in with bleeding noses. Another boy who could not breathe.”
Teachers thanked the school board and administration for the decision to close 20 Indian Prairie schools without air conditioning for two days this week, but several have related stories from the heat wave that struck Aug. 26 to Aug. 30, the first full week of the school year. Schools stayed open, but, said some teachers, very little learning was going on.
“The principals were rightfully so evacuating the top floors of the buildings,” said Paul Gamboa, a fifth-grade teacher at White Eagle Elementary. “Some of the teachers were saying ‘I have all my materials up there, my Smartboard lessons are up there.’”
Teachers said that classroom temperatures soared in the afternoons during the heat wave, and did not sufficiently cool overnight. Thermometers in some classrooms read in the 80s when teachers first arrived in the morning, some teachers said.
As a result, they said, teachers, parents and support staff witnessed everything from nosebleeds to vomiting, fainting to headaches of both students and teachers.
Susan Duval, a third-grade teacher at Brooks Elementary, told the board that during that week of heat, she left work early three days in a row, and was treated for heat exhaustion that Friday night at an urgent care clinic.
“I’m not a sissy in the heat,” Duval said. “I garden from sun up to sun down all summer. I am not medically fragile like some of my kids are.”
Twenty schools in the Indian Prairie School District, mostly the near-identical elementary schools built between 1974 and 2001, plus Indian Plains alternative high school, were built with no air conditioning, and estimates the district obtained in 2007 to retrofit the schools with central air came in at roughly $1.9 million for each school.
This week, with the return of hot weather for a couple of days, parents and teachers pleaded for the district to begin looking at alternatives, including window units and portable air conditioners to help cool the classrooms.
According to a memo posted on the Indian Prairie website, those alternatives have already been investigated, and each poses other challenges, including poor air quality and extra noise in the classroom.
Meanwhile, parents and teachers said some classes have been moved to cooler hallways or computer labs. Also, teachers have been keeping lights off, spraying students with water bottles and placing jugs of ice behind fans as ways to keep cool.
In response, Indian Prairie administration has already begun assembling an advisory committee made up of staff at each of the non-air-conditioned schools to address the heat issue, said Superintendent Kathryn Birkett.
“I want to encourage anyone out there, if you have additional information, anything you want to share that is solution-oriented, we certainly understand what has happened out there. Now we want to know, what are the solutions.”