New school year, same problem as frustrated parents demand cooler classrooms


With the new school year beginning Aug. 1, the Hawaii State Department of Education is reminding schools and parents how to prevent heat illness.

“We have been working hard to cool classrooms across the state, however, with increased heat and humidity, it’s important to revisit tips on preventing heat exhaustion,” said superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “In addressing heat concerns, we met with principals to discuss options of moving students to cooler areas of their campuses if necessary.”

Next week, letters from the DOE and the Department of Health will be sent home to parents providing health recommendations which include helping students prepare for hot days.

A year ago, high temperatures prompted the department to post heat-related guidelines in all classrooms and school offices. Those guidelines are also posted online here.

Meanwhile, the work to cool classrooms continues.

Gigi Jones is getting ready to send her kids back to school at Ka’elepulu Elementary school in Kailua. For another year, she and other mothers are sending their kids to school with more than just books and backpacks. “When my friend was packing her daughter’s backpack for school she was packing cooling towels and fans personal fans. I think that’s really sad the parents are having to do that for their kids even though it’s needed.”

How to cool the state’s public schools has been an ongoing debate. The governor allocated $100 million for that purpose this past year. But while parents like Jones know it won’t happen overnight, she says communication needs to improve. “We haven’t been notified of any heat days we haven’t been notified of any modifications to the schedule. PE classes, as far as I know, are still going to be held in the blazing sun of the afternoon and we haven’t heard of any of this happening.”

Teachers have tried to take the problem into their own hands, by buying fans and doing whatever else they can think of to cool their classrooms. Kimberly Wing, another parent in Kailua says even that can bring other issues, “The noise from the fans so loud that the kids can’t hear teachers anymore so that it creates that problem and then there’s the electricity consumption problem as well.”

Parents say it’s frustrating that teachers can’t bring in portable ac units. This is because the buildings electrical system couldn’t handle the extra output. But Wing says more needs to be done. “All of our parents know that what the signs of early heat exhaustion and heatstroke are. That’s a good thing however the fact that that’s something that could happen to our children every day they go to school, scares me.”

The teachers union is advocating to get the most out of the $100 million that the governor set aside to cool schools. In the mean time Corey Rosenlee, president of HSTA says their could be another solution, “One of the things HSTA is proposing, its proposed in the past, are heat days. That when it gets up to a certain heat index that schools, classrooms without air conditioning are closed. This is what is healthy for our students.”

The DOE has already installed more than 400 portable classrooms with heat reflective materials, 139 classrooms installed with ceiling fans, 109 classrooms equipped with portable ACs, and upgraded electrical systems at schools across the state.

It’s also working toward the governor’s goal of installing air conditioning units in 1,000 classrooms.

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