Welcome back to another school year, and congratulations on a great first day. As we begin to settle in for another year, we have all been gripped by the impacts of the Extreme Heat Watch issued by the National Weather Service.
For some of us, extreme heat has resulted in limited outdoor times for our students, and for others the extreme heat in our classrooms and hallways have exposed the vulnerability of our school buildings, many of which were built decades ago without air conditioning or accommodations for a warming plant. Regrettably, these problems have been amplified by the previous mayor’s changes to the school calendar, which forced us to start the year earlier than normal.
With so much at stake for our students, these extreme heat conditions give us an opportunity to organize and fight forward for our students, their families and our workplace. As part of that fight, we are urging all those concerned about the current heat levels to join CTU’s fight to heal our world and mitigate the risk of climate change in our city and its classrooms. Sadly, issues of climate warming have had a direct impact on our classrooms and our work, and this extreme heat advisory is just the latest example.
But as educators, residents of Chicago and global citizens, this extreme heat advisory should push us to be more involved in our school based safety councils, join CTU’s Climate Justice Committee, and work together collectively to ensure that the CPS’ 10-year Facilities Master Plan is one that is rooted in the needs of the community and that centers the imperative that all of our city’s schools be modern, environmentally sound and green. In addition to those fights, these hot days should be a call to action throughout CPS for a modern fleet of electric school buses as well as an opportunity to uplift the green schools contract language that has been ratified at charter schools in the city.
Earlier today, Mayor Johnson issued his plan on the city’s Extreme Heat Watch and highlighted our solution driven by partnership and collaboration.
According to CPS, all classrooms have working air conditioning; regrettably, we know that this statement has real limitations and that some of our classrooms and hallways lack adequate air conditioning units to ensure temperate classrooms in which our students can learn and achieve.
Late yesterday, CPS sent out a letter to principals regarding the extreme weather facing Chicago and urged them to work with educators, facility management and central office to make reasonable accommodations for classrooms and school buildings. To ensure this letter is more than just words, we urge building representatives, safety committees and PPCs to meet with their school’s leadership regarding these matters this week.
Here are some toplines of the Emergency Action Plan that all union educators should be aware of:
- Ensuring that staff and students remain sufficiently hydrated.
- Working with the building engineers to ensure that all water fountains are in working order.
- Providing water on school buses in the morning and in the afternoon.
- Permitting students to bring full water bottles to school and providing them with opportunities to refill them.
- Encouraging students to wear light cotton clothes and allowing them to wear shorts to school.
- Drawing shades in rooms to keep sunlight out.
- Turning off overhead lights, computers and appliances when not required for instruction.
- Moving classes from rooms exposed to sunlight to auditoriums, interior or lower-level rooms.
- Keeping air circulating by opening windows and doors and by using fans.
- Monitoring students taking particular medications to ensure proper hydration.
- Limiting outdoor recess activities (e.g., running) to short durations or only in the morning.
- Holding recess in shaded outdoor classroom areas, where possible.
We know the August heat in Chicago can be extreme, and that is why we are also urging CPS to bargain with us today about next year’s school calendar, so we can do our best to avoid the extreme heat of August next school year and the years following.
Thanks to CTU’s advocacy, CPS has agreed to reconvene our district-wide and school-based safety committees to address the heat wave and future climate catastrophes. We recommend that you convene your safety committee as soon as possible, invite members of SEIU and the dining staff (UNITE HERE) to participate, and request the emergency safety plan from your admin, including what the plan will be if the air conditioning goes out.
If you have any questions about engaging in the fight forward for environmentally sound schools, please contact your field representative.
Chicago Teachers Union
Below are some of the questions our Executive Board crowd-sourced that could be useful to share with your administration via email or in a safety committee meeting:
- Is there a central phone number for principals to call to secure additional AC units? What about school buses without AC?
- Some staff were asking today whether some schools with AC might serve as cooling centers for families that don’t have AC?
- At the Acero schools, they are planning cold meals in schools that do NOT have central AC
- Are students permitted to wear shorts?
- What about schools with extensive uniforms that may be too hot? Are students allowed to dress for the weather outside of uniform?
- Is there a temperature inside buildings at which it is unsafe for staff or students to remain there?
- Will all staff be given a fact sheet regarding signs of heat illness and a plan of action if a student or staff member is sick?
- Will the Board send home information to families regarding how to keep their loved ones safe, e.g. the locations of cooling centers, things they can do to stay cool, signs and symptoms of heat stroke, how to access city services?
- Can the Office of Student Health and Wellness put out a guide for school communities to keep students safe? Such as when to cancel outdoor recess, how to keep students hydrated and cool, how to handle after-school sports, and the signs, symptoms, and treatment of heat stroke.
- Water will be provided, but will it be cold water? Water should be in buildings now so the lunchroom staff can put the water in the refrigerator.
- How quickly can you replace a conditioner unit that is not working correctly?
- Will you supply water bottles to the schools where many children won’t drink from the fountains because of fear of lead contamination?
- Is there a protocol to ID students who might be exhibiting concerning signs of heat stress? This is one reason we need solar on school buildings so that when the power goes out, we can have a solar backup.
- Our gymnasium has no AC. What should schools propose to these students instead of PE?
- What are the plans for schools with no air conditioning in the lunch rooms?
- Who pays to replace AC wall units when old units break?
- Are there industrial fans in the hallway on every floor and in the lunchroom to help move air around throughout the corridors and bathrooms?
- Have you considered moving to remote if needed?
- Have you sent a bulletin to parents who may have students with 504 plans who are at risk with asthma, bronchitis, or any condition that prevents the lungs from getting air? Provide an alternative to keep them home with a remote plan?
- Have you considered students staying at home for heat wave days or considered a 1/2 day? Some other cities have no school for half days.
- Students with severe asthma concerns should not have to commute up and down the stairs in the heat of the day. Can special precautions be taken with these students? Students with severe asthma should be supervised by a SECA and allowed to move at their own pace.