Parents, teachers demand more action from LBUSD on classroom heat

At Wednesday evening’s Board of Education meeting, an emotional Sarah Roselli tried to underline the stakes of overheated classrooms in the Long Beach Unified School District. Roselli teaches special education students at Poly High School, and she said multiple students had seizures at the campus during the first two weeks of class while the region baked in an intense heat wave.

“I spent much of the last month worried that a student could die in my classroom,” Roselli said. She explained that there are students with diagnosed heat triggers for their seizure disorders. “Students stayed home because parents were afraid for their safety.”

Roselli, who served on the district’s Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, also pointed out that Buffum and Tucker, two LBUSD schools that exclusively serve special ed students, were among the last in line to get HVAC upgrades.

“History shows special education students have not been prioritized,” she said. “Why are the two sites that need it the most the last to get air conditioning?”

She asked her questions amid a larger group of parents and teachers who’ve organized around the issue over the last few weeks, a handful of whom were on hand to speak at Wednesday’s board meeting. With temperatures forecast in the high 80s for early next week, it’s an issue that’s not likely to go away in the short term.

Patrick Elementary School parent Kirsten Chen also spoke and referenced how long the rollout of Measure E funds was taking; the bond measure was approved in 2016 in part to fund HVAC upgrades across the district.

“When voters approved Measure E my daughter and I were in our second trimester of pregnancy,” said Chen. “When Patrick Henry receives HVAC, she’ll be in middle school.”

Chen pleaded with the board, “Please remember these are real people, real children. Every day we entrust them to your care. Please take care of them.”

Because there was no item on the board’s agenda about the heat, trustees did not discuss the issue. However, the board did talk about it the previous day at a district workshop where they heard a presentation on HVAC from district facilities staff.

At the workshop, Executive Director of Facilities, Development, and Planning David Miranda said the district was looking to speed up HVAC installs for the 20% of classes that don’t yet have air conditioning.

“We’ve been looking long and hard at re-baselining our program,” he said, while pointing out that extensive design and planning work happens before construction begins, making that kind of shift difficult to achieve. “Design can take more than a year before shovels go into the ground. Wilson … took 25, 26 months or so,” he said.

The board acknowledged they’d heard strong messages from the community. Board Member Juan Benitez asked, “Given the public inquiry and outrage—’Why don’t you do this?’ Each person had 10 ideas. Can you speak more to, did this catch us off guard?”

Alan Reising, the district’s business services administrator in the facilities department, answered: “I don’t think anybody was ready for the first two weeks of school to be 105 degrees plus. Traditionally we get some heat waves at the start of the school year but I don’t think we were quite ready for the length and severity that that heat wave hit us with.”

Reising also stressed that while changing the HVAC timelines is a hugely complicated endeavor, the district is currently looking at shorter-term heat mitigation strategies for future temperature spikes.

Reising said the district has several orders out for box and pedestal fans to help with cross-ventilation and is also looking at window coverings and repairing blinds. Many parents asked for portable AC units or window units for classrooms, which Reising said will be implemented in some buildings where the electrical wiring allows for it.

“Certain schools can, other schools may not, individual buildings may be able to but other buildings due to their age and electrical service may not be able to handle the additional load,” he said. “We have maintenance teams going site by site to evaluate those electrical systems now with the intent of purchasing window units and getting them installed as quickly as possible.”

Reising also said the district is purchasing shade structures for all of its campuses, with construction set to start next month and be completed by November or December, allowing for more shaded areas outside. In addition, the district is purchasing more water-filling stations.

“We understand the concerns that are out there,” said Reising. “We don’t take lightly the need to provide a healthy space for children and teachers. We’re doing what we can but we recognize that we have some old schools that are on track to be modernized in the fairly near future.”

With heat wave this week, here’s the status of AC in LBUSD schools

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