Summer 2016 has been a punishing season for the east coast, and as September looms, the heat shows no signs of breaking. The National Weather Service predicts the heat index to stay north of 90 degrees for the first week back in school for most districts in Baltimore County, Maryland.
Normally, this wouldn’t be an obstacle to kids going back to school, just a source of frustration as freedom turns into homework. But Baltimore’s schools have a new policy in effect this year, one for their protection. Now Hot Days will join Snow Days as a safety-driven school closure event. Any school without air conditioning must close on days when the heat index rises above 90.
(For those not in the know: ‘Heat index’ is the opposite end of wind chill—how hot does it feel as opposed to the number on the thermometer. It takes into account humidity and time of day for a more relevant statistic.)
The new policy requires the superintendent to announce a closure if the high index is reported by 8pm the night before a school day. Had it been in place for the 2015-16 school year, Baltimore schools would have closed for as many as 10 days.
37 of Baltimore County’s 200 schools are affected under the new policy. There are plans to install air conditioning in all of those schools, with a recent allocation of an $85 million dollar budget for the project, but it will not be complete for at least four more years.
Parents are of divided opinions on the closures. Some believe it inhumane for students and teachers to be stuck in sweltering classrooms where 35 bodies will drive the temperature up even higher. Others think that discomfort isn’t worth disrupting their education and forcing parents to find other childcare options with little notice.
The decision came after a conflict between concerned parents and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamentz resulted in a refusal to install temporary window air conditioning units in buildings still waiting for installed AC.