Editorial: How hot is too hot for classrooms?
You’re in a room full of people, trying to listen to the person talking but your mind keeps wandering. It’s hard to focus on your work. All you can think about is how uncomfortable you are, how much you want a drink, how you want to be anyplace else.
Now imagine you are 8. It’s not a meeting. It’s math class.
Penn-Trafford teachers want air conditioning in every district classroom because they say conditions like this at the start of the school year in August and September make learning almost impossible.
And that makes sense. It’s hard enough to get 20 fifth-graders to pay attention to multiplying fractions on a good day. Doing it when they are miserable seems futile.
But that doesn’t mean cooling dozens of classrooms is either easy or affordable. Yes, 70 degree classrooms all year would be ideal, but so would smaller classes, limitless technology upgrades and field trips to Epcot.
It’s easy to look at this as an issue of pampered students and snowflake teachers. Come on, air conditioning? Kids have been going to school for generations without it. Why demand it now?
The Penn-Trafford Education Association isn’t framing it as an employee comfort issue. President Shaun Rinier says kids can’t learn like that. The administration must agree as students had early dismissals in 2018 because of the hot classrooms. The teachers have a grievance based on the district’s responsibility to maintain the facilities.
There is still the question of money. Can the district afford the electricity or upgrades to support the extra load, and are window units enough in older buildings without central-air capabilities?
But there’s another money issue. Can the district afford not to cool the kids down? Is the cost of the air conditioning less than the cost of wasted time and effort teaching hot kids who aren’t paying attention?
Yes, kids have gone to school in the heat in years past, but there was no focus on test scores and demand for performance other than the student’s own grades, and no penalty for failure other than a parent disciplining the child.
Today, schools and teachers are measured and tracked for achieving goals in a way that they weren’t in the 1990s or 1970s or 1950s. Districts have a motivation to create a good learning environment, because a bad one wastes teaching time and, by extension, taxpayer money.
And that’s not cool.