Sweat-free school­ing?

Our view: Bal­ti­more County’s manda­tory heat clos­ing policy needs to be re­vis­ited — be­fore thou­sands of stu­dents fall fur­ther be­hind

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

On Fri­day at 11 a.m., Du­laney High School eco­nom­ics teacher Phil Bressler con­ducted his ad­vanced place­ment classes by we­bi­nar. His 60 or so stu­dents were for­tu­nate to have the op­tion of re­ceiv­ing in­struc­tion via com­puter at home. Hun­dreds of other stu­dents weren’t so lucky — school was closed be­cause it was hot out­side.

“We’ve gone too far,” Mr. Bressler says of Bal­ti­more County’s man­dated heat clos­ings. “The weather is not ideal, but it’s not that bad.”

If the Bal­ti­more County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion wanted to teach tens of thou­sands of their stu­dents that show­ing up for school is unim­por­tant — or at least not worth a mod­est level of phys­i­cal dis­com­fort — they could scarcely have de­vised a more ef­fec­tive strat­egy. Was it hot on Fri­day? Ab­so­lutely, the high tem­per­a­ture reached 93 de­grees by late morn­ing in Ti­mo­nium. But was that enough to jus­tify not con­duct­ing class at 37 Bal­ti­more County schools that lack air con­di­tion­ing (or, in the case of Du­laney, aren’t fully air con­di­tioned)? Not even a half-day of in­struc­tion?

We don’t think so, and we strongly sus­pect most Bal­ti­more County par­ents don’t think so ei­ther. Worse, given the fore­cast for continued hot weather, the county has al­ready can­celed school for to­day, and it’s en­tirely possible the county may lose more days this week — to the point school of­fi­cials are al­ready won­der­ing whether they’ll have to ask the state school board for an ex­emp­tion to the 180-day rule.

That’s right. On Day 3 of Bal­ti­more County’s 2016-2017 school cal­en­dar, doubt has al­ready been cast on whether stu­dents will squeeze in suf­fi­cient class­room time be­tween now and June. What an em­bar­rass­ment — made all the worse by the par­ti­san pol­i­tics in­volved.

How did it come to this? The ob­ses­sion among some re­gard­ing the lack of air con­di­tion­ing in cer­tain Bal­ti­more County schools has gone beyond the pale. We get it: The county should pro­vide air con­di­tion­ing in its schools. But that’s al­ready hap­pen­ing. The num­ber that lack full AC has al­ready been re­duced from 90 in 2011 to the cur­rent 37 — and should be whit­tled down to 11 one year from now.

But that’s not good enough for a vo­cal group of par­ents with the back­ing of Comptroller Peter Fran­chot and Gov. Larry Ho­gan who have de­cided that por­ta­ble air con­di­tion­ing units should be pro­vided in the in­terim re­gard­less of cost or tim­ing (po­ten­tially spend­ing mil­lions to out­fit and re­wire schools slated to be torn down, for ex­am­ple). As part of that push, the school board ear­lier this month em­braced a new policy: Schools lack­ing full AC must be closed if a suf­fi­ciently high “heat in­dex” — a com­bi­na­tion of heat and hu­mid­ity — is fore­cast a day in ad­vance.

Thus, Su­per­in­ten­dent Dal­las Dance’s hands were tied last week and this re­gard­less of ac­tual con­di­tions in his schools. Such a brain-dead reg­u­la­tion is, frankly, in­sane. We don’t tie Du­laney High School prin­ci­pal Sam Wykoop looks over the school’s court­yard. His was one of 37 county schools with­out air con­di­tion­ing closed Fri­day be­cause of heat. su­per­in­ten­dent’s hands on snow days, we shouldn’t do it on heat days ei­ther. And it’s fair to won­der how much this brouhaha is about class­room con­di­tions and how much is it about a po­lit­i­cal tar­get­ing of Kevin Kamenetz by Mr. Fran­chot and Mr. Ho­gan, given that the Bal­ti­more County ex­ec­u­tive, a prom­i­nent Demo­crat, is ru­mored to be a can­di­date for statewide of­fice in 2018. No amount of air fresh­ener will cover up that un­pleas­ant odor of po­lit­i­cal self-in­ter­est waft­ing from An­napo­lis.

The school board ought to re­peal this non­sense im­me­di­ately and leave it up to on-site school of­fi­cials to de­cide what is tolerable. Stu­dents, teach­ers or other school-based work­ers with med­i­cal con­di­tions should re­ceive ex­cused ab­sences. County schools op­er­ated un­der those terms for gen­er­a­tions and some­how pros­pered (Kids, there was no such thing as an air-con­di­tioned Bal­ti­more County school in the 1960s — just ask your grand­par­ents).

As for whether a later start of the school year might have avoided this prob­lem, don’t be so sure. Mary­land’s weather doesn’t mag­i­cally turn cooler when the cal­en­dar flips to Septem­ber. Last year, it reached 94 de­grees mul­ti­ple days in Septem­ber and as late as Septem­ber 9. The other most avail­able op­tion, ex­tend­ing the school year beyond mid-June, isn’t nec­es­sar­ily much bet­ter as it hit 96 de­grees on June 11 this year.

Mean­while, par­ents and board mem­bers would be bet­ter served by fo­cus­ing on the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion in the county and not so much on HVAC. Sup­port­ing high-per­form­ing and in­no­va­tive teach­ers like Du­laney’s Mr. Bressler would do more to lift the county’s un­der­whelm­ing re­cent stan­dard­ized test scores than jig­ger­ing with the ther­mo­stat. And per­haps it might also help send the mes­sage that a high-qual­ity K-12 ed­u­ca­tion is worth a week or two of per­spi­ra­tion.

BAR­BARA HAD­DOCK TAY­LOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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