Although the expectation is that temperatures will start cooling when kids go back to school, Mother Nature must’ve missed the memo about the seasons changing.
Either that, or this is simply the new normal.
But not everyone was prepared for the high temperatures this September — and the Hempstead school district has not been spared. Officials there are under a bit of heat as reports of “uncomfortable” classroom conditions are coming to light in the aftermath of the hottest summer ever recorded.
According to students and parents within the district, there was no air-conditioning during the first two weeks of school, and there is no set end date in sight to the conditions they describe as tortuous. Hempstead school officials blame the conditions on its old cooling system, which they say was overwhelmed by the record-breaking heat and stopped functioning.
"We are working to increase the cooling capacity in our buildings,” the district said in a statement. “And prevent a recurrence in the future."
Aside from the hot conditions inside the building, the students who are forced to be there all day are just as heated emotionally as they are physically — upset at the districts “messed up priorities.”
“Administration is disorganized,” complained Phillip Fountain, a junior at Hempstead High School. "It’s hot. The AC don’t work. You got kids out here literally fighting every day, you got kids in that school smoking every day in the bathroom, you got all types of stuff in that school — and all they did was get us a new field.”
That field was just unveiled at the high school, estimated to cost roughly $2.66 million, according to Construction Journal — money Fountain believes should have gone to other initiatives that would work to improve the quality of life within the school and help students succeed better in the classroom.
Hempstead spends $41,000 per student, almost double the state median of roughly $25,000. Yet, it ranks near the bottom of school districts in the entire state, according to published reports, and only has 27 percent of students who qualify as “proficient” in math, and 38 percent who are proficient in language arts.
Fountain says the heat he and fellow students feel throughout the day is intolerable, going as far to suggest the district postpone classes until the issue is resolved.
“I'm going to be honest, this is that unbearable," Fountain said. “It's like most kids can't even do their work.”
This academic year has started amid the hottest summer ever on record, starting on Sept. 4 this year for Hempstead students. That first week back featured daily highs consistently exceeding 90 degrees, and a weekly average temperature just short of 91 degrees— a significant increase compared to last year when the average temperature during the same week stood at a more sustainable 79 degrees.
In lieu of many other similar reports emerging throughout the state, the New York State United Teachers — which represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, and professional faculty throughout New York — plans to introduce legislation that would set temperature standards for all school buildings in the state.
Lower classroom temperatures and improved air ventilation lead to improved learning ability and student performance by as much as 10 to 20 percent, according to the union, citing a study by the University of Tulsa. The study found that fifth-grade students’ math scores increased in correlation with increased ventilation.
The study also found that in 96 percent of the classrooms measured, ventilation rates were below the recommended level per person.
The proposed law would require “action to relieve heat conditions” when a classroom hits 82 degrees, and that classrooms be vacated entirely if temperatures surpass 88 degrees, as well as establishing a 65-degree minimum for the colder winter months.
“When schools are too hot, students can’t learn and teachers can’t teach,” union president Melinda Person said. “Even animal shelters have maximum heat limits. Our schools do not, and it is disrespectful to both our students and educators."
Students like Fountain, are hoping as discussions and actions continue, these efforts will lead to a brighter, cooler, and more equitable future for all Hempstead students and educators alike.
The Hempstead school district did not respond to repeated requests for comment.