June 12, 2008

Healthy, weather-prepared schools must be a priority

Source: NYSUT Media Relations

ALBANY, N.Y. June 12, 2008 - New York State United Teachers today praised school districts that took appropriate steps to help students and staff during the recent heat wave and called on all districts to be better prepared and to act more quickly in future heat crises. NYSUT is proposing some commonsense solutions, such as using the National Weather Service's "Heat Index" as a guide, to prevent another disappointing lack of action by some school administrators.

"The safety and well-being of students and staff must be the first priority in any crisis – weather or otherwise," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi, applauding NYSUT members and school district leaders who put safety first during the recent difficult stretch.

Excessive heat and poor air quality are bona fide health and educational issues. Teaching and learning suffer when the thermometer soars and when stagnant air mixes with blistering heat, exacerbating pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma.

One solution proposed by NYSUT is to use the National Weather Service's "Heat Index" as a guide to preventive action for school leaders. The index is an accurate measure of how hot it actually feels outside when relative humidity is added to the air temperature. Considering the aged structures in which so many children learn, many buildings are 10 to 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature.

Potential measures could include clear guidelines established for times when the "Heat Index" reaches a certain level, such as limiting student athletic activity, relocating students to cooler parts of the building and using portable fans and air conditioners. Every school building should have a health professional who can recognize heat hazards and symptoms and administer appropriate treatment. All school districts should have a response to dangerous heat waves as part of their emergency preparedness plan.

"We need a fair and consistent approach that can be used across the board in every district in the state," said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue. "This is an effort that cries out for teamwork and collaboration to do what's right for students."

Long-term measures are also needed to fight excessive heat, including energy-efficient windows and the installation of ceiling fans, air conditioners or other permanent cooling equipment. These are all commonsense steps that decision-makers can, and should, support, union leaders said.

Many schools, in both poor and wealthy districts, do not meet students' needs because of the buildings' age or bad design. Their conditions demand the assistance of the federal government.

"Kids have a great deal to focus on in the classroom," said Iannuzzi. "The environment shouldn't be a distraction. Safe, healthy and weather-prepared schools must be everyone's priority."

NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents more than 600,000 classroom teachers and other school employees; faculty and other professionals at the state's community colleges, State University of New York and City University of New York, and other education and health professionals. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.

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