Safe Schools
September 04, 2018

Classroom Heat: Students head back to school during record breaking temperatures

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
classroom heat

Does your school have a temperature limit in its emergency plan?

If not, it should be considered, as students are once again headed back to school during record-breaking temperatures that can cause illness, exacerbate medical conditions, and lead to dizziness and lethargy.

Though the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that schools be kept at a range of 68-76 degrees when occupied, dozens of educators last spring reported stifling temperatures of 90 degrees or more in classrooms when NYSUT sent out a Member Action Center blast seeking feedback on the issue.

NYSUT delegates passed a resolution at the Representative Assembly this year requiring the union to pressure lawmakers to enact legislation so that temperatures in schools conform to the those federal OSHA temperature standards. But while NYSUT’s Legislative Department was able to convince bill sponsors in both houses to agree to a temperature reduction from 90 to 82 degrees, the bill was not passed out of either education committee at the end of session.

NYSUT now will ask for the bill to be reintroduced in January.

The union is also advocating, at delegates’ request, for the State Education Department to develop guidelines for procedures to close schools when safe temperatures cannot be maintained. SED has a minimum school-temperature guideline of 65 degrees for cold months when spaces are occupied. The New York City Department of Education sets a cold-weather minimum at 68 degrees. In 2017, the city pledged to have all classes air-conditioned by 2022.

Wendy Hord, NYSUT health and safety specialist, said some of the effects of overheated classrooms, include:

  • Little education being accomplished because student attention is adversely affected by the heat.
  • People feeling ill when it's too hot, aggravating medical conditions such as respiratory conditions, making matters even more unbearable.
  • Health problems — such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke — being experienced by students while participating in sports in high temperatures.
  • Teachers being concerned about the health of both their students and themselves while in sweltering classrooms and schools.
    A survey conducted earlier this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that students can do poorly on tests when temperatures are too high.

Hord recommended that, in addition to sending in a temperature story to NYSUT or logging temperatures, union members work with the school nurse and parents to help advocate for change, such as: 

  • Addressing the issue of heat in school emergency plans
  • Local unions proposing a temperature threshold at which action should be taken (fans, breaks, water, etc.); as well as a threshold at which you students and teachers can no longer stay in a room.
  • Drinking water and asking for more breaks in cooler areas of the schools.

Tell us - and log it!

NYSUT's online survey and downloadable two-week temperature log are both available at www.nysut.org/heat.

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