SAUGERTIES, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The hotter it gets, the harder it is to concentrate in school — especially while wearing a mask, shares 11-year-old Jenna Miller.
“Well, at first when we started it was really hard concentrating with the mask on for, like, six hours, but when it was nice and cold out, I think it was a little easier. Now that it’s getting so hot, I’m really against it. It’s really hard,” says Jenna.
Jenna says she already got a nosebleed into her mask last week while sitting in her Cahill Elementary School classroom that has no air conditioning, but Tuesday, she says she just couldn’t take it anymore.
“Two hours into, like, our class, it was just so hot in there that I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I was gonna pass out,” Jenna explains.
“I’m so proud of her for stepping up and protecting herself, enough to where she chose yesterday she knew that there was something wrong,” says her mom Kelly. “You don’t put a dog in a car, you don’t put kids in a hot classroom.”
When given the option keep the mask on or go home, Jenna left rather than wait out the school day in close to 90 degree temperatures. Rural Schools Association Executive Director David Little says it’s actually fairly common for schools in our area to have limited AC options.
“Many schools are unprepared in hot weather, so it’s always been easier to shut down by the time it gets really hot,” explains Little. “It would cost a fortune to put air conditioners into schools that don’t already have it. If you happen to live in an area that doesn’t have independent financial resources, you’re probably not going to be going out anytime soon to get an air conditioning system, no matter how hot it gets.”
“Mask or no mask — if it’s 95 degrees outside and you don’t have air-conditioning in the school, you’re just not gonna learn a lot, right? It’s just too uncomfortable to be there,” he adds.
Little says the reason lackluster AC is a larger problem in rural school districts than in urban ones is in part due to funding, but also uneven distribution of resources between urban and rural school districts.
“I ask the lawmakers to look at what the effects of their policies really are in smaller districts with limited resources, they have no idea,” he says.
Larger districts are also feeling the heat as the Capital Region experiences unusually high temperatures for this time of year. A notice from the City School District of Albany confirms AC malfunction issues resolved Tuesday at both Arbor Hill Elementary and Albany High School. Little says with only two weeks left in the school year, finding alternatives is a big ask.
“You have to shut the windows because it’s 95 degrees outside. If you turn on an air conditioning system that doesn’t have the appropriate filters on it — and they’re expensive for schools and an unplanned expense — if you turn that on, then you have the exact same circumstances you had in the middle of February where you had to turn the heat on,” he explains. “They are either going to help if you’ve got filters, or they’re going to harm your ability to protect everyone by spreading the virus indoors.”
“We have some pockets within our facilities where there is air-conditioning, and we are utilizing the spaces,” says Saugerties Central School District Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt.
Superintendent Reinhardt says his district can’t consider changes to the mask policy without CDC and state guidance, but leaders do acknowledge the added strain of wearing a mask in hot conditions and so are looking for ways to get students off hotter floors, including at Cahill.
“I met with the principals this morning. We do have spaces within our building where the temperatures are different based on what floor they’re on. They are giving teachers the opportunity to move their classrooms, once again making sure we’re staying within CDC guidelines for COVID,” Reinhardt explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
“Based on the governor’s guidance, they are no longer required to wear masks when they’re outside, so we put out a note to all our staff in fact on Sunday, reminding them the use of alternative spaces within the buildings, within the grounds, to increase the mask breaks, when needed increase opportunities for hydration,” he further clarifies.
Little says the only hope in sight is federal funding unique to the pandemic.
“The federal stimulus money that’s been provided that allows you to make improvements to physical facilities in schools to improve the learning environment, well my guess is you’re going to get some that will try to work out a way to spend some of that money on air-conditioning,” he says.