Kids, teachers sweat it out in classrooms without air conditioning
Temperatures in several classrooms at Challenger Middle School in Mira Mesa on Friday remained over 93 degrees during 7th period. Teachers agreed other recent afternoons had been hotter. Ingrid Lobet, inewsource

Kids, teachers sweat it out in classrooms without air conditioning

Across San Diego, children and teachers are spending hours a day in classrooms that surpass 90 degrees, apparently unable, until recently, to penetrate the myth that the region’s weather is perfect.

In the second largest school district in the state, San Diego Unified, 33 schools lack even a single air-conditioned classroom.

Some parents who encounter the overheated classrooms for the first time are appalled.

Temperatures in some local classrooms reach levels the San Diego Unified School District says can slow learning and even cause cramps and possible heat exhaustion.

“If you ran into the store and left your dog in the car with the temperature in the 90s, someone would be arresting you,” said Marci Shear, whose daughter just began Mandarin-immersion kindergarten at Barnard Asian Pacific Language Academy. “Yet I’m supposed to send her to school in temperatures like that.”

Teachers in the Mission Beach cluster of schools took matters into their own hands and sampled temperatures at six campuses the week that school began. Each school had classroom readings in the 90s. The hottest temperature was 98.4 degrees, recorded on Sept. 9 at Kate Sessions Elementary.

In schools with central air, the district recommends thermostats be set at 78 degrees. What this means is that teachers and children in classrooms without air-conditioning spend successive days in temperatures 10 and even 15 degrees higher than what others are expected to bear. School board documents predict diminished learning between 83 and 92 degrees, and cramping and possible heat exhaustion above those temperatures.

According to the National Weather Service, the month of September was more than 6 degrees hotter than normal in San Diego, and the second hottest September on record. (The average is calculated over the 30 years between 1981 and 2010.)

KT Martin's 8th grade English class at Challenger Middle School in Mira Mesa takes a test as the mercury in the classroom climbs past 92 degrees during 6th period. Martin said the conditions might cause her not to count the test toward students' grades. Photo by Ingrid Lobet

KT Martin’s 8th grade English class at Challenger Middle School in Mira Mesa takes a test as the mercury in the classroom climbs past 92 degrees during 6th period. Martin said the conditions might cause her not to count the test toward students’ grades. Ingrid Lobet, inewsource

Outside temperatures are predicted to keep climbing with climate change. Heat waves in San Diego are expected to “increase in frequency, magnitude and duration,” according to the report Climate Change-Related Impacts in the San Diego Region by 2050, from the California Climate Change Center.

By 2050 it will be much more common for hot days to occur in April and even into December, according to the report. In the Miramar area, scientists predict climate change could mean the number of days over 97.3 could increase sixfold.

San Diego has already experienced some of the steepest warming in the state, according to a 2008 report from the California Department of Public Health.

Yet hundreds of classrooms lack air conditioning. Until recently there was no plan to air-condition schools unless parents themselves raised money for it, said Cynthia Reed-Porter, facilities communications supervisor at San Diego Unified. In 2008, voter-approved funds provided for installation of air conditioning in inland schools undergoing remodeling. A subsequent measure in 2012 provided the same for schools under renovation in the zone between the coast and inland areas.

A stronger step came In 2013. Under pressure from the teachers union, the district identified the 2,000 hottest classrooms and targeted them for new cooling systems. Then just a few weeks ago, following passionate testimony from teachers and parents, the San Diego Unified school board voted 5-0 to design a plan to cool all classrooms. Reed-Porter said district staff is preparing that plan now.

Terrian D. H. Jackson, 14, composes a poem from the perspective of a drummer boy after reading a work of historical fiction in KT Martin's 8th grade English class. The temperature rose from 91 to 93.7 degrees in the classroom as he worked. Photo by Ingrid Lobet

Terrian D. H. Jackson, 14, composes a poem from the perspective of a drummer boy after reading a work of historical fiction in KT Martin’s 8th grade English class. The temperature rose from 91 to 93.7 degrees in the classroom as he worked. Ingrid Lobet, inewsource

Poway Unified and Vista Unified school districts, the third and fifth largest in San Diego County, report that all classrooms are air-conditioned. inewsource will compile and map data from all local districts in subsequent reports.

Marci Shear is pleased that her child’s district is designing a plan that for the first time will include air conditioning for schools in the coastal zone. She went directly from her first day drop-off at kindergarten in Pacific Beach to search for fans across the mostly sold-out September shelves of Home Depot, Lowe’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond. She spent her own money. Even friends who are lifelong San Diegans sometimes express doubt that schools nearer the coast could be so hot, Shear said.

“This is one thing I would definitely like to educate the people of San Diego. It does get hot by the coast,” she said.

Air-Conditioned Classrooms at San Diego Unified Schools (as of 9/2/15)

Sources: San Diego Unified School District, U.S. Census Bureau
Download the data behind this map here.

Air-Conditioned Classrooms at San Diego Unified Schools (as of 9/2/15)

Sources: San Diego Unified School District, U.S. Census Bureau
Download the data behind this database here.

inewsource reporter Joe Yerardi contributed to the data and mapping in this report

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About Ingrid Lobet:

Ingrid Lobet
Ingrid Lobet is a reporter at inewsource specializing in the environment. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email ingridlobet@inewsource.org.