Schools close early and teach online as heat wave hits northeastern US

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A blast of late summer heat caused disruptions Wednesday in schools from Michigan to Virginia, with some districts dismissing students early and others holding classes online just days into the new academic year.

Although temperatures were not as high as the deadly heat wave triple digits last month, schools in states including Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia cited inadequate air conditioning for shortening days this week. Temperatures in the mid-90s also led to online learning in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Only 20% of Detroit public schools, where the temperature reached 89 degrees on Tuesday but dropped on Wednesday, have air conditioning. The district dismissed its roughly 54,000 students three hours early Wednesday for the second day in a row.

“We never want to inconvenience our families with early dismissals, but we also don't want our staff and students to feel so uncomfortable that teaching and learning becomes a distraction because of the heat,” a spokeswoman for the California Community District said in a statement. Detroit Public Schools, Chrystal Wilson.

The early dismissals caused headaches for families who had to scramble to make last-minute schedule changes.

Mother Natesha Myers, who works from home, chose to stay with her 5-year-old daughter. Myers said she would not have been able to pick up her daughter from her Detroit school three hours earlier due to scheduled work meetings.

"It was very difficult and stressful," Myers said. “I had to give him the iPad. “She kept trying to get on my lap.”

Late summer heat is not unusual. But temperatures at the beginning of the school year have been rising for years.

For example, Philadelphia's expected high of 95 degrees on Wednesday is 13 degrees higher than the day's normal high, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The holiday weekend also followed hottest month of August never recorded by scientists with modern equipment; Scientists blame to human-caused climate change .

This week, during the first week of school in Philadelphia, dozens of schools had early dismissals “without air conditioning or inadequate cooling.” The district announced Wednesday that more than 80 schools would end classes early the rest of the week.

District spokeswoman Monique Braxton said many schools need upgraded electrical systems to support air conditioning.

"We are in an ancient city," he said. “Most of our buildings are older facilities. “We are making the necessary adjustments.”

In Baltimore, where temperatures reached 90 degrees, inadequate heating and air conditioning systems have also long been a problem.

The officials published a plan in 2017 to make all necessary improvements and repairs in approximately five years. While that deadline has been delayed by issues including spending, the number of city schools without air conditioning has dropped from 75 to 11, according to district officials.

Nationally, an estimated 36,000 schools need to upgrade or install HVAC systems, according to a 2020 U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

On Wednesday, Baltimore schools without air conditioning dismissed some students early and assigned others to virtual learning for the rest of the week.

In Pittsburgh, students and staff at nearly 40 schools also moved to remote learning.

Return to online learning in times of extreme weather (from hurricanes until water crisis) has become more common after the pandemic, although remote instruction has deficiencies long-term .

Health experts warn that exposure to excessive heat can cause dehydration or heat exhaustion, among other things, while teachers say sweltering classrooms make it difficult to do their jobs.

“Teachers are concerned that the environment is conducive to education. They were grateful to have the relief,” Detroit Federation of Teachers President Lakia Wilson-Lumpkins said of the early layoffs.

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