Should Hawaii schools cancel class due to ‘heat days’?

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If a child’s classroom gets extremely hot, should they remain in class?

The new leader of the Hawaii State Teachers Association says they shouldn’t, and believes education officials should consider canceling school when the heat is unbearable.

The majority of public school teachers are entering the classrooms again this week at a time when parts of the state are reporting record-high temperatures.

Campbell High School teacher Jessica Caraang spent the day unpacking supplies for the upcoming school year.

“The first thing I thought of is, why are we having students start at the hottest time of the year?” she said.

Up to 40 students pack the classroom which, the 10th-grade teacher says, can feel like a sauna.

“It is hard to teach because they’re just not focused on anything,” Caraang said.

HSTA’s new president, Corey Rosenlee, says he wants to find out exactly how many classrooms need air conditioners and how much that would cost.

He says he believes it could be cheaper than what the DOE thinks “because when we look at the price of air conditioning, unless we know how big the problem is, we can’t solve it.”

According to the Department of Education, it would cost about $1.7 billion to install air conditioners at all DOE schools.

The DOE’s current power bill is $60 million, which would increase if more AC systems are installed.

Schools that recently received money for cooler classrooms include Lokelani Intermediate School this year, Hickam Elementary School last year, and Pohakea Elementary School in 2012.

The top three schools that remain on the list where AC has been identified as a priority are located in Ewa Beach.

But that doesn’t mean the schools will automatically receive them. The DOE just completed a study identifying the most efficient ways to cool classrooms.

The recommendations include lighter roof colors, natural shading and flushing out classroom heat at night.

The DOE will try some of these things at Campbell High School.

“One of the things we need to consider is, if it gets really hot, if we close down the schools,” Rosenlee said.

“We watch (KHON2) News and we get an idea of what’s coming up and just like the snow days on the continental U.S., that makes sense,” said Campbell High School Principal Jon Henry Lee.

Efforts to cool Campbell could begin by the end of the year.

Until then, “I was thinking about having them make their own paper fans and attach it to the desk. That way they can have something to fan themselves,” Caraang said.

DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said “suggestions on making changes to the school calendar based on ‘heat days’ should be considered during the process of creating the school calendar.”

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