In winter, the heat is often cranked too high in schools. And when the warm spring and early summer weather comes, many schools do not have air conditioning. Humid spikes in classroom temperatures foster sluggishness and even illness for people with medical conditions.
"Overheated schools and colleges affect learning, waste energy and cost school employers money," said Wendy Hord, NYSUT health and safety specialist. "As bad as it is for students, overheating makes it harder for a teacher to teach and for staff to be productive."
In addition to heat concerns, studies show that student test scores went down 23 percent on days carbon dioxide spikes were recorded, said Darryl Alexander, director of the health and safety program for the American Federation of Teachers.
"We should consider having building report cards — like student report cards," Alexander told 167 union members from schools throughout New York State during the 2017 NYSUT Health and Safety Conference.
NYSUT has set up a proactive study to help educators record classroom temperatures. Data gathered this spring will be used to advocate for a law that would limit upper temperature extremes in schools and colleges.
Illnesses believed to be caused by poor indoor air quality, uneven temperatures and other school health and safety problems — such as rodents, leaky roofs and mold — include asthma, sinusitis and chronic bronchitis, Alexander said.
Vigilant monitoring of health and safety conditions will be needed should the federal government forge ahead with reductions in funding and oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency, for example. "They're giving up responsibility to be a watchdog," Alexander said.
NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale noted that some schools are located near dangerous areas, such as being downwind from plants and factories that emit toxins. Diesel truck sites, explosive material manufacturing and storage facilities and Superfund sites need to be mapped so schools can be alerted to potential dangers and further air hazards.
Join the campaign!
NYSUT members in K–12 and higher education locals are encouraged to join the union's Campaign to End Overheated Schools. Participants are asked to collect temperatures in May and June for a two-week period. The data collected will help generate a report on the problems and help the call for remedies. For more information and to download the room temperature record log, visit www.nysut.org/healthandsafety and click on "classroom temperature log."