Following a disastrous January when Baltimore students returned after the winter break to find flooded and sub-freezing classrooms, city school officials ordered repairs and established procedures for closing schools when inside temperatures drop too low.
But 11 weeks later, City College students say that their building is still frigid and they have to wear coats in the classroom.
“We’ve still got no heat. It’s cold!” student Erica Rodriguez told reporter Jaisal Noor of the Real News Network yesterday.
“You have no heat in your school?” asked Noor, who had been interviewing a group participating in yesterday’s national school walkout to protest gun violence.
“No!” numerous students in the crowd replied, several pointing to their outerwear.
“We gotta wear these big coats to class,” one of the students said.
City Schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster initially said she had heard no reports of cold schools. But after checking with facilities staff, she reported that four city schools were on “the critical list” for getting immediate attention for serious heating problems yesterday.
City wasn’t on the list.
Rules on Getting Relief
To get on the critical list for priority attention requires temperatures to be recorded below 60 degrees Fahrenheit in at least four rooms or areas of a school.
This then triggers a review by “in-house engineering people” and outside contractors, if necessary, to make repairs, House-Foster said.
The gym at City College, House-Foster said, was 55.7 degrees yesterday at just after 10 a.m.
Contradicting the students, House-Foster said there were no other rooms judged too cold, according to the daily testing conducted by the custodians (who have been given “temperature guns”).
City would still receive maintenance attention, the spokeswoman said, but it would be prioritized below the schools on the critical list.
Across town, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute did meet the criteria for attention, with cold temperatures recorded in four locations, including the gym, cafeteria and music rooms.
House-Foster said the three other schools that made the list yesterday were Graceland Park Elementary School, Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology, and William Paca Elementary School.
Students Ask for Mayor’s Help
Baltimore students had identified dilapidated facilities as a priority issue during a protest march to City Hall last week.
Mayor Catherine Pugh told the students that she would spend $100,000 to transport them to Washington for the upcoming “March for Our Lives” rally as well as supply them with tee-shirts.
Some students said the mayor should instead use the money for needs specific to Baltimore.
Among their demands – that the money go instead “for heating and infrastructure repairs in the schools.” They also called for a ban on lethal weapons in schools, including “the demilitarization of the school police forces.”
Pugh subsequently said she had found private funding for the D.C. trip and that no tax dollars would be used.
Asked at yesterday’s press availability about the request to put the funds toward building repairs, Pugh said she would not.
“I know there are some children who are wealthier and who can get themselves to D.C. by themselves, but there are inner-city children in our city who can’t get there,” she said.
Band-aid on Festering Wound
House-Foster said the school system is doing its best to maintain school buildings. Advocates for schools have complained for years that they are underfunded, dilapidated and in need of massive repairs.
About 85 schools reported heating, electrical, plumbing and other problems during a cold snap in early January, school officials said at the time.
Since then, schools that had been severely cold are doing better.
The Southwest Baltimore Charter School, for instance, has had sufficient heat, according to a teacher there, Corey Gaber.
“They added a bunch of space heaters in the coldest parts, and we also got some investment to fix up the heating system,” said Gaber, a founding member of BMORE (Baltimore Movement Of Rank and file Educators).
“But I’m not surprised to hear there are still issues since we just put a band-aid on a festering wound,” he said.
“When the analysis says we’re $3 billion short of our renovation needs, some scrappy work from city agencies and GoFundMe’s won’t fix the historical neglect.”
Guidelines now in place related to cold temperatures in buildings, according to Baltimore City Public Schools:
Between 6:30 and 9:00 every morning, school staff use highly accurate infrared thermometers to take readings from specified areas of every school building and report to the district office.
If temperatures are below 60 degrees in many areas of the building, the principal calls a designated direct phone line at the district office to report a problem.
A facilities technician goes to the school and determines how quickly the problem can be addressed.
If the temperature is below 60 in a classroom, school staff will relocate students to a warmer area of the building. If temperatures below 60 are widespread and the facilities technician determines the problem cannot be fixed within two hours, the principal and district leadership will determine if a closure or early dismissal is necessary.
An option has been added to the district’s main phone line (443-984-2000), so members of the public and other staff can report maintenance concerns directly.