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Schools can't beat the heat

June 09, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The high temperatures and humidity of the past few days have given some Washington County students good reason to say school is uncool.

Ten of the county's 44 public school buildings have only partial or no air conditioning, according to Director of Facilities Management Dennis McGee.

That means 3,760 students are affected when temperatures soar.

Because of the heat, students were dismissed two hours early Wednesday for the second time in two days.

"I don't do my work very good when it's like this: Hot," said Chris Rowland, a first-grader at Salem Avenue Elementary School.

Some rooms in the school felt like saunas Wednesday. Second-grade teacher Ann Palmer said her students are easily distracted by the weather.

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"After one-thirty, they really have lost their focus," she said. "They are very lethargic. Our instruction is not as effective because we're miserable."

One Salem Avenue student fainted from the heat Tuesday, according to first-grade teacher Linda Green.

Instructors said some students felt ill because of the heat. They try to help keep the students from getting overheated by letting them take more frequent water breaks, spraying them with mist and feeding them ice.

Doors and windows were open at steamy South Hagerstown High School.

"It's so stinking hot in here," Principal Mike Shockey said. Construction noises add to the distraction, but students are handling it well, Shockey said.

"It's not too bad," said Tim Stephens, a sophomore at South High. "It definitely affects the learning process. People's attention spans are shorter. You don't want to pay attention, just kind of sleep. The day gets a lot longer."

Schools such as Bester Elementary have partial air conditioning. One section, which includes rooms for prekindergarten through second grade, can be unbearable, according to first-grade teacher Terry Kuhn.

"It was hard to breathe in there Tuesday," she said. "It's still yucky."

Making all schools cool isn't a simple matter, McGee said.

Older buildings aren't energy efficient because they have features like poorly insulated enamel wall panels and plate glass windows, McGee said.

"You can't print enough money to air condition some of these poorly built old buildings," he said.

Air conditioning was not a standard feature in county schools until 1967.

The Washington County Board of Education plans to install air conditioning in buildings as they renovate them. In the meantime, administrators and teachers hope temperatures will drop.

Wednesday would have been the last day of classes had the schools not shut down on six days over the winter because of snow.

"It's not like we planned to be here in the middle of June," said McGee.

Board policy allows the schools superintendent to dismiss classes early when the forecast is 90 degrees or higher. Closing schools extends the school year, so the board instead dismissed classes early on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I really think the way we're doing it is the most practical," said McGee.

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