How schools are coping with the rising heat days

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As the climate crisis intensifies, many schools across the US are facing a new challenge: how to keep students and staff safe and comfortable in extreme heat. Heat days, when schools cancel or shorten classes due to high temperatures, are becoming more common and frequent, especially in regions that are not used to such weather.

The impact of heat on learning and health

Heat can have a negative impact on both learning and health. According to a 2018 study from the Harvard Kennedy School, students in schools without air conditioning performed worse on standardized tests than those in schools with AC, and their learning dropped by 1% for every 1-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature.

Heat can also pose serious health risks, especially for children, elderly, and people with chronic conditions. Heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, dehydration, and asthma, can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. Heat can also worsen the spread of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, by increasing respiratory distress and reducing the effectiveness of masks.

How schools are adapting to the heat wave

Many schools are trying to adapt to the heat wave by implementing various measures, such as:

  • Canceling or adjusting classes: Some schools have decided to close their doors entirely or send students home early when the temperature reaches a certain threshold. For example, Baltimore City Public Schools announced that they would dismiss students three hours early on Tuesday and Wednesday due to excessive heat. Other schools have opted to switch to remote learning or use alternative spaces, such as libraries or gyms, that have better ventilation or cooling systems.

How schools are coping with the rising heat days

  • Providing cooling devices and water: Some schools have invested in portable fans, air conditioners, or misting systems to cool down their classrooms. Others have distributed water bottles, ice packs, or wet towels to students and staff to help them stay hydrated and prevent overheating.
  • Limiting outdoor activities: Some schools have canceled or modified their physical education classes, recess, sports, or other outdoor activities to avoid exposing students and staff to the scorching sun. They have also encouraged students and staff to wear light-colored clothing, hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen when going outside.

The need for long-term solutions

While these measures may provide some relief in the short term, they are not enough to address the long-term effects of climate change. Schools need to prepare for more frequent and intense heat waves in the future by investing in infrastructure upgrades, such as installing or improving air conditioning and ventilation systems, adding insulation and shading materials, or using renewable energy sources. They also need to develop comprehensive heat action plans that include clear protocols, communication strategies, and contingency options for different scenarios.

Additionally, schools need to educate students and staff about the causes and consequences of climate change and how they can reduce their carbon footprint and adapt to the changing environment. They also need to collaborate with other stakeholders, such as parents, community members, health professionals, and policymakers, to advocate for more resources and support for climate resilience.

Heat days are not just an inconvenience; they are a symptom of a larger problem that requires urgent action. Schools have a vital role to play in addressing the climate crisis and ensuring the well-being of their students and staff.

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