The hottest summer on record is approaching its final weeks with a new heat wave in several states across the mid-Atlantic coast and Northeast US, complicating the start of the new school year with disruptions and closures due to the high temperatures.
Although thermometer readings haven’t reached the triple digits of last month, many schools in states like Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia or New Jersey don’t have air conditioning or modern ventilation systems, and the heat and humidity in the US are high in the classrooms it becomes unbearable for the students.
The heatwave began in the central states on Saturday and spread to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions on Sunday and Monday, prompting record temperatures for the day in dozens of locations and putting heat warnings on more than 80 million Americans.
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Heat waves at the end of summer are not uncommon, but the start of the school year is becoming increasingly difficult with rising temperatures and more persistent hot days.
For example, temperatures of 96 degrees recorded in Philadelphia on Wednesday are 14 degrees above the average high for that day, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Extreme heat and learning
It’s not just about more comfort in the classroom. In a 2020 study, researchers concluded that too much heat inhibits learning after observing students score worse on standardized tests for each additional day with temperatures above 80 degrees.
Philadelphia School District spokeswoman Monique Braxton said many schools need to upgrade their electrical installations to support the installation of air conditioning. “We are in an old town. Most of our buildings are old plants. We’re making the necessary adjustments,” he said.
The school district canceled classes for two days this week, just days after returning to school after summer vacation. In addition, more than 80 Philadelphia schools will end classes early this week.
In Baltimore, with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees, even schools without air conditioning opted for early release or, in some cases, even online classes.
State officials released a plan in 2017 to make all necessary improvements and repairs within about five years, but the deadline was missed and the number of schools without air conditioning has already declined significantly.
In Pittsburgh, students and faculty at nearly 40 schools switched classes online this week.
According to a Washington Post report, schools in Detroit counties were also closing earlier and classes were canceled in northeast Ohio. Only 20% of public schools in Detroit, where temperatures hit 89 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday, have air conditioning. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the students left three hours earlier due to the heat.
“We never want to upset our families with early layoffs, but we also don’t want our staff and students to be so uncomfortable that the heat makes teaching and learning a distraction,” a Community District spokeswoman said in a statement. Detroit Public Schools, Chrystal Wilson, quoted by the AP.
According to a 2020 US Government Accountability Office report, an estimated 36,000 schools nationwide — about 41% — need to upgrade or install HVAC systems.
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