The Long Beach Unified School District has air conditioning in almost 80% of its classes according to the district—something that’s been crucial this week as the city fights a historic heat wave—but that leaves 20% of classes trying to stay cool by other means while students attempt to learn in temperatures that have sometimes crested 95 degrees.
“The district has been, and will continue putting heat-mitigation measures in place at all schools that do not yet have full AC,” LBUSD spokesperson Chris Eftychiou said. Those steps include rotating classes so that empty rooms that are air-conditioned are filled with classes, or relocating classes to air-conditioned facilities such as auditoriums or libraries.
Eftychiou said school support staff have been opening windows and doors in non-air conditioned rooms earlier in the morning to help with better air circulation and additional fans have been provided to schools for hot rooms as well. Eftychiou said the district is also “planning strenuous activities for cooler parts of the day, limiting students’ outside time during peak heat, and encouraging students and staff to remain hydrated.”
Some parents, though, say that’s not enough. Patrick Henry Elementary parent Chelsea Epps said that her child’s school doesn’t have air conditioning and that the effects are visible.
“For kids who are 4, 5, 6, 7 it’s just not reasonable,” she said. “I’ve been to the school and picked up my daughter, the kids look like zombies, they’re red in the face. The staff looks the same. It’s scary.”
Epps is hoping the district will change its construction timeline to get air conditioning into elementary schools faster because they’re less able to deal with the heat. Using money from a construction bond measure passed in 2016, the LBUSD says it won’t be finished installing HVAC systems on all its campuses for eight more years, according to Eftychiou. The LBUSD bond page has a project timeline that is searchable by school.
Patrick Henry, for instance, isn’t slated to be completed until the 2028-29 school year.
Some parents in Facebook groups have discussed keeping their kids home tomorrow or staging a walkout in protest of the temperatures in un-air-conditioned rooms.
“We’re talking about our youngest kids, our most vulnerable population,” said Epps. “Some of them can’t communicate or aren’t even aware of the effect that this is having on their body.”
Another LBUSD parent, Miguel Lozada, took to Twitter to post pictures of a no-touch thermometer taking readings in his child’s school that were as high as 97 degrees.
In previous heatwaves when fewer of the district’s schools had air conditioning, the LBUSD took other mitigating steps such as districtwide minimum days. LBUSD has so far not taken that step this year.