With warm temperatures persisting in Southern California at the start of the school year, local students and teachers have complained about heat in their classrooms as the Santa Monica-Malibu school district attempts to provide relief.
The issue was raised at the Board of Education meeting earlier this month by Sarah Braff, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, who urged district officials to consider the wellbeing of the children and adults who occupy the rooms on a daily basis.
“This is my third year in a row asking for a plan on heat, a very specific plan on heat,” she said. “Our teachers our suffering. Our students are suffering. Our staffs are suffering. It’s not OK.”
Most SMMUSD classrooms don’t have air conditioning, which has been a sore subject in the district for decades.
In a recent email to parents, Superintendent Sandra Lyon said officials are looking into “long-term” cooling options but did not specify a timeline. She also outlined what the district is doing in the meantime.
According to Lyon, the district has installed wall fans to improve circulation and has replaced faulty blinds to keep out direct sunlight. Roller shades are being put in across the district throughout the school year.
Lyon told Braff the work is ongoing and that district officials are sending out notices to teachers so they “know what to do when it does get too hot.”
Teachers have been advised to open windows in the morning and keep classroom lights off when possible. They have also been told to encourage students to stay hydrated.
Outdoor activities, after-school practices and athletic events will be canceled if necessary.
“We know they’re not enough,” Lyon told Braff, referring to the short-term responses. “There’s not a quick solution.”
The matter recently came to the attention of Henry Kirolos, a UCLA physician who specializes in preventive and primary care.
He said one of his patients is a John Adams Middle School teacher who reported that her students couldn’t focus in her hot classroom.
Kirolos added that it’s difficult to teach when students are loosening their shirt collars, fanning themselves and wiping sweat off their faces during instruction time.
He cited a scholarly article by Glen I. Earthman regarding the impact of school conditions on academic performance, which points to a study that determined optimal classroom temperatures to be between 68 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit.
“If children are hot and sweaty inside the classroom, they’re not going to be able to concentrate,” Kirolos said. “It’s not conducive to learning.”
Braff acknowledged that the wall fans are helping, but said more must be done to address heat-related concerns.
“We need a board policy on what temperature we stop at,” she said. “I think that’s something we really need to look at. I’m aggravated about this because this has been a drumbeat for my last three years, and I don’t feel we’ve made very much progress.”
Braff lobbied for air conditioning and wondered aloud whether money from the district’s two recent bond measures could support temperature control.
“What is our plan?” she said. “We have plans for a million other things way into the future. We have been talking about heat for 15 or 20 years.
“It is not sufficient just to have fans. The temperatures are changing, the air is changing, the quality is changing, and we have to change with it.”