U.S. NewsEducation

Actions

Schools close for extreme heat as many lack air conditioning

Dozens of school districts throughout the U.S. are closed due to extreme heat, placing parents in a continuous lurch.
Angel Urquia wears a tank top as he studies under whirling ceiling fans that provide little relief in a hot classroom.
Posted at 10:29 AM, Sep 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-05 10:29:19-04

A number of schools across the U.S. closed on Tuesday as the heat has not let up following the Labor Day weekend. 

Heat advisories were in place for much of New England and the Northeast as temperatures were expected to reach the 90s throughout a lot of the area. 

Several districts in Northeast Ohio, including the city of Parma, are closed on Tuesday. Parma City Superintendent Charles Smialek said the age of the school buildings played a factor in his decision to cancel school on what was supposed to be the first day of the school year. 

“We look at real feel, and our real feel temperature tomorrow afternoon, early afternoon hours is above 95-97 degrees ... a lot of our classrooms are actually built in the 1920s, 1930s and may only have one electrical outlet, so we can't even really run a whole lot of fans in our classrooms,” Smialek told Scripps News Cleveland.

What's the best way to run your air conditioner in extreme heat?
Two people sip water on a hot day

What's the best way to run your air conditioner in extreme heat?

The longer AC units run continuously, the less efficient they become.

LEARN MORE

In its newsletter, the National Education Associationaddressed air conditioning concerns. In the newsletter, Joseph G. Allen, director of Harvard University's Healthy Buildings Program, said it is "unthinkable" that schools need to close due to heat. 

"We’ve been in the sick building era for over 40 years, and we've neglected our school building," he said in the NEA's newsletter. "It’s just something we’ve tolerated, and I’m not sure why. We know that good ventilation and filtration are key to student health, student thinking, and student performance, and yet closing schools has become our new reality."

A 2020 report from the Government Accountability Office found that over 40% of schools need new or replacement HVAC systems. The GAO noted that "without air conditioning, schools relied on open windows and fans, which were not always effective at cooling buildings to safe temperatures for students and staff."

With schools closing during extreme heat, the burden to keep kids safe during the day shifts from schools to parents. In Michigan, schools closed on Friday due to heat. After a three-day weekend, parents are once again trying to figure out child care. 

"They were off on Friday as well. I wasn't ready for that so that was a surprise," Aubrielle Kituuma, whose children attend the Southfield Public School District in Michigan,told Scripps News Detroit. "So now we go from Friday to Monday and now Tuesday so it definitely requires some extra planning to accommodate that."