May 17, 2024

NYSUT erects portable sauna to make lawmakers “feel the heat”

Author: Kara Smith
Source:  NYSUT Communications
NYSUT erects portable sauna to make lawmakers “feel the heat”
Caption: State Sen. Robert Jackson was one of several lawmakers who sat in NYSUT’s “hot seat,” a portable, plastic sauna erected in the Well of the Legislative Office Building to simulate excessive classroom temperatures.

Assemblyman Chris Eachus knows how it feels to be hot. As a retired high school teacher, the Hudson Valley representative remembers sweltering classrooms that pushed he and his students into hallways, cafeterias or outside under trees to escape the heat. He was one of several lawmakers who experienced NYSUT’s “hot seat,” a portable, plastic sauna erected in the Well of the Legislative Office Building to simulate excessive classroom temperatures. Heat pumped into the unit boosted temps into the high 90’s and beyond. Lawmakers completed a nine-question classroom quiz while sitting at a desk in the unit to underscore the difficulty high temperatures place on learning.

“What I experienced back there I experienced many times in the classroom ... when it gets that hot, it’s not a learning environment anymore,” said Eachus, who sponsored Assembly bill A.9011. If approved, the bill would require that districts address heat conditions when classroom temperatures hit 82 degrees and vacate classrooms entirely at 88 degrees. A companion Senate bill, S.3397, is sponsored by State Sen. James Skoufis. Eachus considers the sauna demonstration a game changer when it comes to garnering support for the bills. “Senators and Assembly people who were unsure of co-sponsoring absolutely said they’d get on it now … I don’t think there’s anybody that would vote against this bill.”

“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 who was on hand to rally legislative support for the two bills. “When schools are too hot, students can’t learn, and teachers can’t teach.”

Long Island State Sen. Mario Mattera spent years working as a plumber and has a slew of not-so-fond memories of sitting in sweltering classrooms. “I couldn’t even concentrate just doing the survey,” said Mattera, R-Smithtown, of his time sitting in the sauna. As the ranking member of the Energy and Telecommunications committee, and a bill co-sponsor, he pledged his support for making improvements. “We need to move ahead and put the infrastructure in our classrooms so that our children can learn properly.”

Classroom visits at schools in his Queens district convinced State. Sen. John Liu of the need for change. As Liu prepared to take his turn in the sauna he pledged his support for the legislation. “You can’t concentrate much less learn anything … we can’t expect our teachers to teach effectively and our kids to learn meaningfully when the temperatures are unbearable,” said Liu, chair of the Senate’s New York City Education Committee.

As he rushed to attend legislative session, Long Island Assemblyman Doug Smith, R-Holbrook, a bill co-sponsor, and ranking member of the Assembly Education Committee, remembers the difficulties he experienced keeping students engaged in high school math class during his time in the classroom. “As someone who sweats in the winter, addressing this is critical, we lose a lot of learning time in May, June and September,” said Smith. “Our students deserve better and we’re going to give it to them.”

"Heat Tent"

It’s only May, but educators are already dreading June, and the excessive classroom temperatures that come with it. This past September, indoor classroom temperatures reached the mid-90s and 100 degrees in parts of the state.

To raise awareness, NYSUT distributed copies of its 70-page report, "Overheated: Excessive Classroom Heat" at the sauna event. It includes first-hand testimony from hundreds of educators and parents statewide about the toll high temps take on students and teachers and fact-based research about the effects of excessive heat on students’ health and academic performance.

“We know that our school staff will do everything they can to keep students safe,” said Person. “We just want the state Legislature to step up and pass some legislation to help them do it.”