Thursday, September 02, 2010

Steaming Students

Several schools in my area released their students at the half-day because of "extreme heat conditions and poor air quality." Some local schools are closed today as well, and I believe it is likely the rest will close early again today, as the weather conditions are supposed to be about the same.

Maine as a state is generally unprepared for excessive heat. Most of the schools don't have air conditioning. Many of the buildings are made of dark brick with lots of large windows. A lot of classrooms don't even have fans to circulate air. When the outside temperatures are in the mid-to-high 90s, with body heat the temperature inside the classrooms can be over 100 degrees.

The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory and an air quality alert. The heat index values are expected to be about 100 degrees. Outside. They specifically mention that "the high heat and humidity combined with the long duration of the current heat wave will make conditions uncomfortable and potentially dangerous especially in hot buildings without air conditioning or proper ventilation."

This is the first time that I know of that schools in Maine have closed due to heat. There has been a huge uproar in the community (mostly, I believe, from people who do not have children) about the superintendents' decisions to close the schools. There has been an awful lot of "we never did that when *I* was a kid, and it was plenty hot some days, let me tell you." These people probably also declare that they walked five miles every day to school, in a blizzard, uphill. Both ways. And liked it.

The fact is, when we were growing up, schools in Maine did not start until after Labor Day. Check the weather: next Tuesday it's supposed to be in the high 60s. The average high temperature for that day is about 71, with the record high being 83 back in 1983. Yesterday's previous record high was the same, but back in 1995. Yesterday's high temperature *shattered* the previous high record by about 15 degrees.

And we are putting students in the buildings, in school-approved attire that includes no spaghetti tanks, halter tops or back-baring tops, skirts or shorts reaching at least fingertip length. And we are making them sit still for up to 80 minutes at a time. With no air conditioning and little air circulation. Without enough hydration, even if they have water bottles with them, which many did not. And expecting them to pay attention and learn.

So yeah, I completely support the schools for sending people home. I hope they do it again today.

I guess in the future we'll have to include "severe weather days" instead of "snow days" in our projection for the length of the school day. :) mk

p.s. For those who deal with these high temperatures all the time (I'm looking at you, Florida) and laugh at the reaction Maine is having, I challenge you to have your kids attend school in 0 degree temperatures (or lower), when you've received a foot or so of snow the previous day. Laugh then.

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