They’re back at school, trying to keep cool
Air-conditioning, school bus issues noted as classes resume
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.”