Turning up the heat: Classroom temperatures cause early school dismissal

Mrs.+Katie+Frederick+teaches+as+her+two+fans+guard+the+classroom%27s+entrance+in+an+attempt+to+combat+rising+temperatures+at+Camarillo+High+School+in+California.

Rhiannan Ruef

Mrs. Katie Frederick teaches as her two fans guard the classroom's entrance in an attempt to combat rising temperatures at Camarillo High School in California.

By Amy Shim, Adolfo Camarillo HS, Camarillo, Calif.

Note: Shortly after this story was originally published online on Oct. 2, the superintendent announced that due to high temperatures and Santa Ana wind conditions, Cam High would have a minimum day on Friday, Oct. 3. Read that full story.

Hot classrooms, twitter accounts that call for putting the AC back in ACHS, and a misread of the 2004 Williams Act Settlement have increased interest into solutions for the high temperatures of Cam High indoor facilities. During hot and dry conditions normal during late summer and early fall, classroom temperatures often exceed 85 degrees and go as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

I realize that this is a sensitive issue, and we are doing all we can to provide a comfortable and productive learning environment.”

— Dr. Gabe Soumakian, superintendent

According to the Williams Lawsuit, students should not suffer from “inadequate, unsafe, and unhealthful school facilities such that the student attends classes in one or more rooms in which the temperature falls outside of the 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit range.”

However, the Williams Settlement only requires these temperatures to be held in schools with already “existing […] air-conditioning systems.”

“The Williams Act is only focused on repairs to existing facilities. Schools are not required to install air conditioning, and Oxnard Union High School District is not in violation of the Williams Act,” said Mrs. Mary Ann Larrieu, Energy Conservation Specialist at OUHSD. “We care deeply about our students and staff, and […] we are taking ongoing proactive measures to monitor temperatures in classrooms at ACHS as well as our other schools.”

Additionally, even if the standards established by Williams were applicable, they are not enforced at Cam High due to its ranking as a decile 10 high school.

All high schools in California are divided into 10 equal ranks, or deciles, based on their API score, with decile 10 as the highest and decile 1 the lowest. Only schools in deciles 1-3 received the $800 million “facility repair” funding by the state and are required to be annually reviewed by the county superintendent.

Cam High’s API score of 869 for the 2013-2014 school year ranked it among the top 10% of California high schools, and therefore was ineligible for the additional funds and oversight.

The district has expressed awareness of the discomfort caused by the heat and is taking measures to solve the issue. “I realize that this is a sensitive issue, and we are doing all we can to provide a comfortable and productive learning environment,” read an email sent to all OUHSD teachers and staff on behalf of Dr. Gabe Soumakian, district superintendent. “We will be providing additional fans to site principals, which will be available to you upon request.”

Under Williams, members of the community can file facility complaints at the school with the school principal. If the complaint is out of the principal’s authority, he or she is required by law to forward the complaint to the school district within 10 working days. Emergency or urgent health and safety threats that should be reported include “nonfunctioning heat […] or air-conditioning systems,” states the guidelines posted under the California Department of Education.

As the demand for proper air conditioning heightens, Cam High’s budget and allotted funds remain scarce.

During the 2008-2009 school year, Cam High was granted $51,387 in funds to improve systems including plumbing, electrical, heat, and air-conditioning. However, the money was focused on repairing existing systems rather than building new ones, as recorded in Cam High’s School Accountability Report Card of that year.

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