They’re back at school, try­ing to keep cool

Air-con­di­tion­ing, school bus is­sues noted as classes re­sume

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­

With an un­of­fi­cial stu­dent count close to 18,300 stu­dents, St. Mary’s pub­lic schools are get­ting into the rhythm of be­ing back in the class­room this week.

A lack of work­ing air con­di­tion­ing at some schools and de­layed bus pick­ups oc­curred, but should be ironed out soon, school off­i­cals said.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Scott Smith said in an email Wed­nes­day that he and school rep­re­sen­ta­tives toured school sites across the county Tues­day, the first day of the school year.

Stu­dents were happy to be back, he said, and staff were “ea­ger to re­con­nect and get back into the rou­tine of the aca­demic year.”

Great Mills High School ju­nior Jas­mine Barnes said Tues­day she was ex­cited to be back to school, but hes­i­tant about the work­load she signed up for. She said she’s tak­ing four Ad­vanced Place­ment cour­ses, and is “think­ing about be­ing an en­gi­neer or a doc­tor.”

Great Mills now has a se­cu­rity vestibule to in­ter­cept school vis­i­tors. A safety and se­curi- ty as­sis­tant is the first per­son vis­i­tors will talk with, af­ter sign­ing in and show­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. The as­sis­tant can also mon­i­tor a va­ri­ety of se­cu­rity cam­eras trained on build­ing en­trances and hall­ways from the vestibule.

Of the new ad­di­tion to the main of­fice, Smith said “the re­sponse has been over­whelm­ingly fa­vor­able.”

Smith said fund­ing for additional el­e­men­tary school safety as­sis­tants will be con­sid­ered dur­ing bud­get work for fis­cal 2020, along with pay raises for el­i­gi­ble staff.

Bus stop is­sues be­ing ad­dressed this week

Jeff Thomp­son, pub­lic schools’ di­rec­tor of trans­porta­tion, said he and his staff are work­ing to solve a va­ri­ety of school bus is­sues that cropped up Tues­day. He said this year’s first day back was bet­ter “com­pared to other years.”

He said all school bus routes ran on Tues­day, with a few run­ning be­hind sched­ule due to me­chan­i­cal is­sues. Some buses trans­port­ing stu­dents to schools like Mar­garet Brent Mid­dle and Great Mills were re­ported to be any­where from 10 to 40 min­utes late the first day, ac­cord­ing to the St. Mary’s pub­lic schools’ school bus Twit­ter ac­count.

Thomp­son con­firmed there were more stu­dents on Bus 516, or one of the Great Mills High School STEM hub buses, than what staff “were com­fort­able with” on Tues­day. He said the bus picks up academy stu­dents and Great Mills High School stu­dents.

Within a half-mile of the school build­ing, some stu­dents who were sup­posed to ride the bus Tues­day “chose to walk to school rather” than ride, Thomp­son said. He said stu­dents who live up to that dis­tance away from the school can choose to walk to their school.

Buses are rated to seat 72 stu­dents, or three stu­dents per seat, he said. Buses that trans­port high school stu­dents or stu­dents trav­el­ing longer dis­tances can sit two per seat, he said.

Thomp­son said “all mo­torists should be aware” of the po­ten­tial traf­fic de­lays caused by school buses be­ing back on the road. He urged driv­ers to be pa­tient on the road­ways as stu­dents en­ter or exit buses.

Thomp­son said staff are still re­ceiv­ing re­quests for new stops and new routes, and they will “get to them as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Air-con­di­tion­ing con­cerns swirl

Wendy Zim­mer­man, Spring Ridge Mid­dle School prin­ci­pal, said in a phone call Wed­nes­day that her more than 1,000 stu­dents re­turned to school “ex­cited to learn.”

“We had a fan­tas­tic” first day, de­spite seven class­rooms not hav­ing air con­di­tion­ing, she said.

She said teach­ers could move to the me­dia cen­ter or un­used class­rooms if they thought it was “too warm in [their] class­rooms.” She said the af­fected class­rooms ranged in tem­per­a­tures from 78 to 83 de­grees.

A ma­jor ren­o­va­tion at the school, in­clud­ing heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing up­grades, was com­pleted just two years ago.

Zim­mer­man said no stu­dents had to go to the nurse for feel­ing over­heated. She also said there were no in­ci­dents of stu­dents mis­be­hav­ing re­ported at the mid­dle school on the first day back.

Jeff Walker, pub­lic schools’ su­per­in­ten­dent of sup­port­ing ser­vices, con­firmed that the air-con­di­tion­ing unit broke down last week and re­pairs were com­pleted on Wed­nes­day. He said the tim­ing for the unit to break down is “not good for stu­dents.”

A tem­po­rary air-con­di­tion­ing unit was used to cir­cu­late cooler air to the af­fected ar­eas, but had re­sulted in con­den­sa­tion on the floors, walls and win­dows, Walker said. School staff also set up wet floor signs, he said.

Walker said Wed­nes­day the unit that broke down Fri­day is not the same one that leaked re­frig­er­ant af­ter be­ing turned on in Jan­uary. School staff evac­u­ated the build­ing as a pre­cau­tion af­ter that in­ci­dent.

He said staff are col­lect­ing data on the fal­ter­ing units, which are still un­der war­ranty. The data would be nec­es­sary “if or when we need to go back” to the com­pany that pro­duced the units, he said.

Sim­i­lar heat, ven­ti­la­tion and air-con­di­tion­ing units are be­ing used at Leonard­town Mid­dle School, Walker said.

Leonard­town Mid­dle stu­dents and staff also had air-con­di­tion­ing is­sues on the sec­ond day of school. One area was re­ported to have tem­per­a­tures up to 80 de­grees, Walker said.

Deb­o­rah Den­nie, Leonard­town Mid­dle School prin­ci­pal, said she sent an email to par­ents that the pub­lic schools’ depart­ment of sup­port­ing ser­vices “is aware of the mat­ter and has had a crew and a man­u­fac­turer’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive on site ad­dress­ing the prob­lem.”

Dur­ing re­pairs, school staff will use a tem­po­rary air-con­di­tion­ing unit “to help with the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.”

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