June 07, 2019

School nurses on watch for effects from overheated classrooms

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Caption: Albany Public Schools Teachers Association member Suzanne McCarthy is a school nurse who shares concerns with many teachers about working and learning conditions in overheated classrooms. Photo by Andrew Watson.

Too much heat in a stifling classroom building can harm the body, with effects ranging from difficulty breathing, nausea and headaches to irritability and lack of focus.

As students and teachers enter the last few weeks of June, when temperatures typically rise, concerns about the effects of overheated classrooms are also spiking.

And summer school can be much worse.

Suzanne McCarthy, a school nurse at Pine Hills Elementary School where she is a member of the Albany Public School Teachers Association, described the dangers of spending hours in “thick, soupy air.” When this happens, she starts seeing more students in her office who are not feeling well.

“They are lightheaded…very sweaty,” she said. “They get irritable.”

Her course of action is to push fluids on them, give them a cold pack, and let them stay and rest.

Tell Your Story

To learn more, share your overheated classroom story and take action, visit nysut.org/heat.

As a registered nurse and health coordinator for the Albany school district, she has worked 15 years in Albany and shares concerns with many teachers about working and learning conditions in overheated classrooms.

For asthmatic children and teachers, the humid air can constrict their lungs and trigger an asthma attack, she said.

“The humidity makes it harder for people to breathe,” she said.

Educators throughout the state have reported to NYSUT temperatures of 90 degrees to just over 100 degrees in classrooms.

Many of those rooms are crowded with students.

“Anytime you have a group of people in a small, confined space, people tend to get sicker,” McCarthy said.

The Legislative Department at NYSUT has been able to convince sponsors of a classroom temperature bill to create a maximum acceptable temperature, but the bill has not passed out of the Education Committee in either the Assembly or the Senate.

Even with air conditioning in the school, McCarthy said there are days the second and third floors become very hot and sticky.

Many schools do not have any air-conditioned classrooms, and some city schools stand at six stories high. Heat rises. New York City has pledged to have air conditioning in all schools by 2022.

Teachers have reported puddles of humidity in classrooms, lethargic students unable to lift their heads off their desks, and working in rooms with no ventilation; body odor becomes an issue under such conditions as well.

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