Daily Press Staff Writer
Thousands of Santa Monica students will have a minimum class schedule today, as the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District grapples with the effects of a scorching heat wave late into October.
Parents were given the option to pick up their children early Tuesday, as the sweltering heat ratcheted up temperatures in classrooms.
By 2 p.m. the Santa Monica Airport reached 100 degrees, according to the National Weather Service which issued an Excessive Heat Warning for Los Angeles County. The NWS warned people living along the coast without air conditioning to take precautions to avoid heat illness and heat stress from the unusual late season heat wave.
Gusting Santa Ana winds provided little relief from the heat, instead blowing around hot air, dust and debris, leading to cancelations of outdoor practices and events as the weather shattered records up and down the coast.
“Students who leave early will be provided an excused absence for the part of the day missed,” Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati said in an email to parents.
“We are in the process of creating plans for air conditioning installation throughout our campuses, however, this is a multi-year process. We are addressing this issue with a sense of urgency.”
District leaders made the decision to modify the schedule after convening a meeting at the Emergency Operation Center Tuesday.
“Most of our schools in Santa Monica do not have AC,” Public Relations Officer Gail Pinsker told the Daily Press. “Until recently, our cool ocean breezes sufficed on the warmest days, but weather patterns have brought some harsher days to our coastal communities.”
Pinsker said she was not aware of any students suffering from heat stroke, but said it was possible.
At Samohi, students said they were sweating in their classrooms while portable fans provided little relief from the intense heat. Parents got a taste of their children’s discomfort when they went inside the campus to sign out their kids from class.
“The air was not moving,” said mother Miriam Janousek who left work in the middle of the day when she got the email saying it was okay to pull her son out of class.
“It was stifling. I wouldn’t want to be inside that building for more than a few minutes. They didn’t seem prepared for this kind of weather.”
At nearby Grant Elementary School, parent Zuzana Riemer Landres brought her daughter’s fourth grade teacher a chilled coconut to get some relief at the end of the day. The mother-of-two hopes the District will speed up the process of getting air conditioning units installed for all classrooms.
“Our school handled it as well as they could but it’s a little much for the teachers and the students to have to deal with,” Landres said.
Some teachers reached into their bank accounts to solve the problem themselves. Lisa Detamore said her son’s fifth grade teacher at John Muir Elementary brought her own air cooler for the class.
“We went to pick up our child and saw the classroom was properly cooled with a fan and window unit,” Detamore said. “We decided to let him stay for the day.”
During hot days, the district sends memos to teachers and staff to utilize portable fans, keep classroom lights off and use cooler campus spaces like libraries, multi-purpose rooms and other common spaces if necessary.
Students are encouraged to dress for the weather and bring water.
In Sept. 2016, the district began evaluating the electrical systems at different campuses to see if they could handle A/C. With the additional electricity used by computers, many electrical systems are already strained, Pinsker said.
“We understand that our communities are very interested in A/C throughout our schools and we are working diligently to make this happen,” Pinsker said.
“The district is also evaluating funding for these projects, with some initial funding from Measure ES, but additional funding sources will still be required to complete the projects.”
Over the summer the district replaced windows throughout campuses to provide better insulation, less air leakage and conserve energy.