This January, as legislators return to icy Albany, they will be confronted by a heatwave, with hundreds of educators taking the opportunity to speak up about spiking temperatures in their classrooms.
Each year, educators from across the state submit stories to NYSUT about excessive heat in their schools and how it adversely impacts their students. This September, with summer temps reaching an all-time-high, NYSUT assembled those personal accounts into a 200-page report, “Overheated,” which details the toll that excessive indoor temperatures take on our teachers and students.
The report will be distributed to New York state legislators at the beginning of session to argue for the passing of bill A447/S3397, which would establish a maximum temperature in school buildings and indoor facilities.
“When schools are too hot, students can’t learn, and teachers can’t teach. Even animal shelters have maximum heat limits. Our schools do not, and it is disrespectful to both our students and educators," said NYSUT president Melinda Person.
The NYSUT report includes grim accounts from nearly 1,000 educators, parents, and students, and provides a stark picture of just how much classroom conditions deteriorate during the beginning and end of the school year, and how powerless educators are to improve them without the assistance of district officials or state leaders.
This past September, when back to school temperatures reached their highest peak in decades, teachers reported that their students were in tears, passing out, throwing up, and barely coherent. In the lower grades, children could be heard calling out for their mothers.
“My classroom of 3- and 4-year-olds opened this year under a heat wave. The temps started at 83 at 7:30 am and soared to 94 by 1:30 in the afternoon. My kids were crying for their mamas because they were so overheated,” said Melissa C., Middle Country. “There has to be a legal claim that this is inhumane and child abuse.”
“On the first day of school my classroom was over 90 degrees. One of my students asked to get a drink of water, stood up, and then passed out cold. He completely dropped to the floor,” said Andrew L., Northport.
“The temperatures in the classrooms have to be over 90 degrees. Several students at the high school passed out due to heat exhaustion and had to be taken away by ambulance,” said Michelle M., Lindenhurst.
This is not the first time NYSUT has spoken up about sweltering classrooms. In fact, the issue comes up every year in the fall when school faculty, along with students, return to public schools and confront sauna-like conditions, and again in the spring, when classrooms begin to sizzle. The reason? School infrastructure is not keeping up with today’s changing climate. Unfortunately, these times coincide disastrously with the two busiest and most crucial times of the year for students – back to school and end-of-year testing. The report also presents the latest research on heat’s impact on students’ health and academic performance.
“These are not healthy or effective conditions for learning or teaching. We have issues with high temperatures in September, May and June. These are critical times of the school year and negatively impact student learning and success on Regents exams,” said Julie M., Fairport.
“I work in classrooms on the third floor of our middle school. The temperature in the mornings is at least as hot as it is outside, which can be 85 to 86 degrees. The heat only increases as the day goes on, often into the 90s. We have students trying to take final exams in severe heat, and it is extremely difficult for them to focus and do their best when they are sweating and overheated...it is unacceptable and dangerous to the health of students and staff to work in such conditions, even on a short-term basis,” said Jane S., Kenmore.
So far, these pleas have fallen on deaf ears at the state legislature, but NYSUT hopes this detailed report will make these issues too hot to ignore any longer.