With temperatures rising to uncomfortable highs this week, concerned parents spearheaded an online petition Tuesday to install air conditioning units in all LBUSD classrooms.
According to parent Keshia Andrews, a student at Hoover Middle School collapsed Thursday and was sent to the hospital. She said teachers and their students at Madison Elementary in North Long Beach were on a rotating schedule, taking turns in air conditioned classroom facilities. Teachers like Soraya Powell of LBUSD’s Stephens Middle School recorded temperatures above 90 degrees in non-air conditioned classrooms.
“It’s disruptive to the classroom environment,” Andrews said. “How can you learn in an environment that is uncomfortable?”
Citing bloody noses, children vomiting, and the overall discomfort of learning in a sweltering facility, the petition has garnered 6,816 supporters (as of Friday afternoon) and attention from LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser and Assemblymember Patrick O’ Donnell, with both citing funding as a prerequisite for increased air conditioning in Long Beach’s schools.
Steinhauser said the district has been “piloting the use of fans, window film and swamp coolers as interim measures” and opening classrooms early to release heat as they wait for funding to increase air conditioning at school facilities. He said 33 of the district’s 85 schools have classrooms that are 100 percent air conditioned, listing off the newly constructed McBride High School, Roosevelt and Newcomb schools, which all opened within the past two years.
“I want to thank everyone for persevering through this week’s heat wave, especially our students and staff whose classrooms don’t have air conditioning,” Steinhauser said. “Providing more air conditioning on a large scale is possible, but it would require significant additional time and resources.”
In fact, it would cost an estimated $700 million, and take several years to install, according to Steinhauser. He said the LBUSD school board has the authority to raise such funds and call for a school bond election, but the estimated cost is a high mark to hit.
“To put that into perspective, our total operating budget for this year is $798 million,” said Steinhauser. “Many of our schools were built in the 1950s or earlier and simply do not have the electrical infrastructure to handle air conditioning.”
Meanwhile, O’Donnell cited the high temperatures as motivation behind his introduction of Assembly Bill 1088, which would provide funding to schools, something he says could go toward “these desperately needed maintenance upgrades.”
“It's is imperative that LBUSD update our buildings and put air conditioning in all of our classrooms,” O’Donnell posted on his Facebook page. “Temperatures have been consistently been rising, and hot weather is lasting well into autumn, in Southern California. Our children can't be expected to concentrate in conditions like this.”
Powell said she found herself welcoming lethargic students, two of whom she sent to the nurse because they had nosebleeds, into her classroom. In her air conditioned room, they became immediately more energetic.
“I am one of the fortunate teachers who have an AC in the classroom,” said Powell. “ However, approximately [two-thirds] of the school (including office staff) does not have that luxury.”
She said the school’s location in a polluted part of Long Beach makes the heat especially unbearable. She also agrees wholeheartedly with a statement in the petition that cites the illegality of placing a dog in a car when it is over 72 degrees. Powell and parents like Andrews said if that's illegal, school officials should question the logic of placing classrooms with 35 or more students in a room above 90 degrees.
Given the funding constraints, Powell, as a representative for the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB), has a few suggestions that could feasibly speed the process of adding quality air conditioning to LBUSD schools. Such suggestions include installing several ceiling fans and air filters in non-air conditioned rooms and sending a representative from the district to “sit in on one of the non-AC rooms for just one hour.”
“This would give them a few ideas as to how to proceed with this issue a lot sooner,” Powell said.
While officials explore future ways of mitigating the discomfort caused by a lack of funding and a lack of air conditioning in the city’s schools, Steinhauser said any student is encouraged to limit outdoor activities, and have other options, given the limiting circumstances.
“As always, any parent may opt to exclude their child from outdoor activities at school, or even from the entire school day, if they feel compelled to do so because of extreme heat,” he said.
Powell said teachers and students will “rally” to find a solution sooner, rather than later.
“I've already started by signing the petition. Emailing the Superintendent was just the beginning,” Powell said. “Those who know me well know that I've just begun this fight, and I'm not planning to give up.”
Above, left: Image of classroom temperature courtesy of Soraya Powell.