By Deborah Bailey, Special to the AFRO
Almost one third of Baltimore City Public School (BCPS) students went home early on the first day of school and throughout most of the first week of the new school year, as high temperatures created unbearable conditions in classrooms throughout the city.
City schools issued an alert notifying parents and the community that all schools without air conditioning would close three hours early on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, days when outdoor temperatures swelled above 90 degrees.
“Baltimore City Public Schools has the most outdated building portfolio in the state, including some of the oldest schools and maintenance needs with an estimated cost of $3 billion to address,” said City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises in a statement September 4, the first day of classes in Baltimore City.
Sixty-four BCPSS schools are without air conditioning. Several additional schools also closed early because of problems with air conditioning systems, bringing the total list of early school dismissals to more than 70 schools.
BCPS policy calls for the closure of school on days when the outside heat index reaches 100 degrees by 10:30 am or when the interior temperature of most classrooms in the building reaches 85 degrees and students cannot be relocated. Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Leana Wen issued a code red extreme heat alert through Thursday (Sept. 6). Heat indexes each day through Thursday were expected to exceed 100 degrees.
Meanwhile, Gov. Larry Hogan and his challenger Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous, tangled over the hot schools issue this week as each used the first day of school as a platform to talk about the problems in public schools.
Hogan, who has long believed City school’s problems are due, at least in part, to administrative mismanagement, signed an executive order creating an Office of Education Accountability naming Valerie Radomsky, its first executive director.
At a news conference at Radomsky’s office, Hogan cited “a persistent and alarming lack of accountability in local school systems across the state.” Hogan called the heat dilemma in Baltimore City School buildings “outrageous” and placed blame on local officials for not supplying older school buildings with air conditioning.
For the last several summers, Hogan and State Comptroller Peter Franchot have tried to strong arm Baltimore City and County officials into placing air conditioning window units in older school buildings. Santilesis has questioned the utility in spending money for window units, rather than more investment from the state in replacing buildings too old for comprehensive repairs.
Jealous fired back at Hogan, with a first day of school event of his own in Baltimore. Jealous said the crisis with lack of air conditioning in a plurality of BCPS buildings has been created by Hogan’s “failure to lead.”
“This is a time for the governor to be on the ground, putting leaders together,” Jealous said.
Ten Baltimore County schools and school centers across the region were also closed due to excessive heat this week.