The heat isn’t going away, and neither is the issue of uncomfortable classroom temperatures.
With warm weather extending well into October across Southern California, the Santa Monica-Malibu school district is trying to provide relief amid ongoing complaints from teachers, students and parents about learning conditions.
The district is working on a variety of short-term and long-term solutions, according to a recent memo from Superintendent Sandra Lyon to stakeholders and members of SMMUSD school communities.
“We understand staff and parent concerns about temperatures in the classrooms and are committed to researching, evaluating and implementing short-term cooling strategies that will relieve some of the discomfort as we pursue a long-term plan that will establish classroom temperatures that are conducive to teaching and student learning,” the memo reads.
The issue returned to the spotlight last month when it was brought to the attention of the local Board of Education by Sarah Braff, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, who urged district officials to take action.
“Our teachers are suffering,” Braff said at the time. “Our students are suffering. Our staffs are suffering. It’s not OK. … 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.”
Henry Kirolos, a UCLA physician who specializes in preventive and primary care, has said that students have a harder time concentrating when they’re hot, sweaty and trying to cool off.
The school board is expected to hear an update on heat-related issues at its Oct. 15 meeting.
The district dispersed 500 fans across its 16 schools last school year and has distributed another 600 this year, according to Lyon’s memo.
SMMUSD officials have also encouraged teachers to work with their site administrators to place work orders for wall fans. Installation of the wall fans has caused a backlog in orders not related to heat, according to the memo.
District officials recently met with a vendor to discuss the possible implementation of ceiling fans, which would complement the roller shades that will be installed in classrooms and other instructional spaces across the district over the course of the school year. Further evaluation is scheduled for Thursday, according to the memo.
Meanwhile, the district plans to analyze facilities to determine future steps, including possible air conditioning. Its recently hired bond manager, Steve Massetti, will be responsible for hiring a company to conduct a heat study, according to the memo. No timeline was specified.
Parents have offered to donate fans and air conditioning units to their children’s schools, but SMMUSD cannot accept them due to safety and building concerns, according to the memo.
“Each school has slightly different needs and infrastructure challenges and decision regarding short-term cooling strategies must be needs-based,” the memo reads.
SMMUSD will consider schedule tweaks and early releases on hot days, which would impact logistics for parents, teachers and students. Officials plan to set up meetings with district unions in the coming weeks to discuss the topic, according to the memo.
“We know staff members understand that addressing this issue cannot happen overnight,” the memo reads.
Sports coaches are being encouraged to develop backup practice plans for hot days, according to Santa Monica High School athletic director Timothy Ballaret. They are also tasked with following instructions from the CIF Southern Section office and making sure students are properly hydrated.