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Educationby Fern Shen3:43 pmSep 4, 20180

Message sent by un-air-conditioned Baltimore schools: “They forget about us”

Back from summer break and greeted this time with stifling heat, students blast political leaders for classroom conditions

Above: City College students, from left Olivia Koulish, Henry Bethell and A’niya Taylor, said high temperatures in poorly air-conditioned classrooms are unacceptable. (Fern Shen)

Back in January, busted boilers, flooded classrooms and indoor temperatures at or near freezing greeted Baltimore students when they returned to school after the winter break.

Children huddled in hats and coats in the classrooms and schools were closed – in some cases, for days – as officials struggled to repair the roughly 85 buildings that reported problems.

Today, on the first day back from summer vacation, students faced the opposite problem – classrooms so stifling that no one could concentrate.

“They had the whole summer to fix these schools. Why didn’t they do anything?” said Pierson Dyson, 17, exiting City College High School, one of the 72 schools that sent children home early because classrooms were too hot.

“It’s very distracting trying to learn while fanning your face or wanting to put your head down on the desk,” said A’niya Taylor, a 10th grader at City.  “I had an aching headache today in the last period.”

“They had the whole summer to fix these schools. Why didn’t they do anything?”

Temperatures rose into the 90s today, part of a heat-and-humidity wave that has been oppressing the city for days. City health officials issued a Code Red heat advisory through Thursday.

But Dyson, a senior, said the school system seemed to be making the worst of a bad situation, noting how the windows in one classroom were left open, while cool air trickled out of air vents.

“I don’t get that. What a waste!” he said, pointing out that heating and cooling problems have plagued his school for years. “I’m just here to learn.”

City College dismissed students at about 11:40 a.m. today, students said.

Taylor, one of eight students who staged a protest outside City today, said the failure to properly heat and cool Baltimore’s public schools sends children who attend them a harsh message.

“They put [resources] towards so many different other things that ‘hold promise’ and so they forget about us,” she said. “They don’t provide us with the proper things we need because they feel like it is a waste of money.”

“Which is unacceptable,” Taylor said, finishing the thought. “Because we are the future. And we deserve to be treated with the proper care.”

Old Buildings, Limited Funds

Asked to respond, school officials answered – as they have in the past – that they are doing their best with old, dilapidated schools plagued by severe maintenance needs “with an estimated cost of $3 billion to address.”

“This includes approximately 60 buildings with no air conditioning or with inadequate systems that require frequent extensive repairs,” spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said.

Funding under the state’s 21st Century School Buildings Program will address the facilities needs of only 23 to 28 schools, she noted.

Last year, the school system launched a five-year plan to put air conditioning in all school buildings, with large high schools among the first to be addressed.

Why does this initiative appear to have had little or no impact?

“With limited funds it is simply not possible to address air conditioning needs in more than 60 buildings in a period of months,” House-Foster said.

$504 Million Surplus

Standing beside the pine trees outside their school, the students addressed the funding issue, placing the blame for poorly maintained buildings not on City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises (she was thanked for her “transparency”), but on Annapolis leaders.

The governor “bragging” about the surplus “is appalling considering the state of Baltimore city schools.”

Olivia Koulish singled out Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“The governor has recently bragged about a $504 million surplus,” Koulish said. “This is appalling considering the state of Baltimore City schools. Our students deserve to be invested in.”

The students called on Hogan to send a $300 million aid package to Baltimore for building repairs.

They also sent a message to the Kirwan Commission, currently engaged in overhauling Maryland’s school funding mechanism that is generally viewed as shortchanging students in poor jurisdictions.

“We call on Kirwan to fully fund our school system and to put students over politics,” Taylor said.

“We beg the voters to turn out in record numbers in November, and vote in officials who will give our schools what they deserve.”

One of the photos of cold classrooms Baltimore teachers were posting on social media today.

One of the photos of cold classrooms in Baltimore that went viral last January.

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