Local school officials make 'tough decision' to close for heat

Cary Ashby • Sep 5, 2018 at 5:31 PM

The extreme heat Wednesday caused Edison and Norwalk school districts to cancel classes in un-air-conditioned buildings. Monroeville Local Schools closed for the day.

Edison Local Schools called off classes in the middle and elementary schools. Edison High School remained open.

“It was a long thought process,” said Superintendent Tom Roth, who conferred with the Bellevue, Monroeville and Norwalk school chiefs over the Labor Day weekend. “We talked through it a lot. … We thought it was best for everybody.”

Norwalk City Schools closed Main Street Intermediate, the middle and elementary schools Wednesday. NHS remained opened.

Superintendent George Fisk said deciding to close school is always a tough decision.

“Our job is to educate the children and we can’t educate them if they’re not here,” he added. “Our buildings didn’t have enough time to cool down over night. They are holding the heat for some reason.”

In the case of Monroeville Local Schools, Superintendent Ralph Moore said with two-thirds of the building not having air conditioning, a heat index of nearly 100 and “air quality that (was) less than favorable,” it was “bad combination.”

All the superintendents said they made their decisions based on the safety of their students and it was the first time in their tenures they decided to close school for heat.

“We’ve never closed for heat in the history of the (Edison) district to the best of my knowledge,” Roth said. “It was not an easy decision. … We really debated it.”

With access to technology that provides detailed information about the weather, Moore said that helps him make the decision for Monroeville to close or have classes — just as it would be for fog, snow and wind chill. In the case of Wednesday’s situation, the superintendent said he wanted to err on the side of caution.


What about A/C?

Each superintendent was asked about adding air conditioning to buildings.

Roth said there has been that discussion in Edison, but he’s been told there isn’t enough electrical power in the middle and elementary schools to run it.

“We are trying to reassess,” he added.

At Monroeville, Moore said the district hasn’t studied the issue recently, although he is confident it has been a discussion before he was hired four years ago.

“It’s a study we will have done,” he added.

One of the things to consider, Moore said, isn’t just being able to afford installing A/C, but being able to pay the subsequent utility bills.

Fisk, in a separate interview, agreed. He said any district considering adding air conditioning would need to consider both the installation price and “the ongoing utility costs.”

“We have not had that discussion during my time in Norwalk,” added Fisk, who was hired four years ago.

Recently the PTO and many donors at Norwalk Catholic School raised money for A/C units to be installed at NCS, St. Paul High School and NCS Early Childhood Center. 

“God is good and many people stepped up,” said Sue Lesch, the NCS chief advancement officer. “Volunteers installed them. … That’s another big savings.”

While “part of our new buildings are air conditioned,” she said the question remained about how to get A/C in every room in the three campuses. In the end, Lesch said “the PTO did a lot of work to raise money,” the school received “many donations” from individuals and teachers who had “mini-fridges,” microwaves and/or coffee pots in their classrooms decided to give up those amenities in order to help pay for electric bills.

The districts used Wednesday as one of their calamity days.

In the cases of Edison, Roth said it’s possible there could be scenario in which EHS might be closed and the other buildings would have class.

“It depends on how many calamity days we have,” he added.

Norwalk faces a similar situation.

“It all comes down to what the weather looks like (in the future),” Fisk said.

However, the superintendent said the district restructured the calendar year to include built-in calamity days. Also Fisk said the elementary and Main Street Intermediate schools started 15 minutes earlier this year, which not only adds instruction time and allows flexibility in situations such as closing school Wednesday.

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