Excessive heat and humidity in Rhode Island lead to widespread school closures – 74

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PROVIDENCE — With a large black SUV with a fully functioning air conditioner on standby when the heat gets too intense, five school food service workers were working under a blue tarp in Bucklin’s kitchen on Dabul Street when Claudia Morales approached.

Morales was there to pick up three lunches for two of her children — a high school senior and senior — and one grandson — a kindergartner, on Thursday because the Providence Public School District (PPSD) closed 19 of its 37 schools due to excessive heat. Providence joins 19 other local education agencies that have closed or dismissed classes early due to the weather.

“At home, I wasn’t prepared,” she said when asked why she came to the food site. “One of my children goes to classical school and today was supposed to be her first day. It hasn’t even started yet.”

She continued: “I did not mind the decision. I think (the officials) made the right decision.” “I think they’ll probably do it again tomorrow.”

PPSD announced that schools will close Thursday night due to concerns about the health and safety of students and staff.

“Providence Public School District (PPSD) is committed to the safety and well-being of our students, staff and families,” Jay Wigemont, PPSD public information officer, said in a statement Wednesday night. “We understand the challenges that extreme heat conditions can cause, and appreciate families’ cooperation and understanding.”

According to its announcement, the region “will continue to monitor the weather.” The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory until 8 p.m. Friday, citing heat index values ​​— what temperature feels like when high humidity combines with high temperatures — as high as 98.

Pawtucket announced via Twitter Wednesday night that all schools would be closed Thursday.

“Due to extreme temperatures forecast tomorrow, there will be no schools on Thursday, September 7, 2023,” a tweet from the Pawtucket School District said. “Employees for 12 months report to the job. Employees, any questions contact your direct supervisor.

Temperatures in Providence could reach the mid-90s on Thursday, but that’s not where the real danger lies, said meteorologist Bryce Wilson of the National Weather Service in Norton, Massachusetts.

“The biggest problem is that the situation will not only be hot,” he said. “It’s going to be humid. We have dew points in the mid 70s.

“When you have moisture in the air, you can’t sweat or cool down,” he said. “That’s why it’s more dangerous than dry heat.”

The weather has led to flight cancellations regionally, said Ashley Cullinan, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Education.

“There have been reports of heat impacting areas throughout New England, so it is important to note that this issue is impacting schools outside of Providence, many of which do not have adequate electrical capacity to house cooling units and systems,” Cullinan said in an email. “.

Closings and early dismissals across RI

Officials with the Rhode Island Department of Education listed 19 other local education agencies that closed schools or ended classes early due to heat and humidity. The list included: Blessed Sacrament School in Providence, LaSalle Academy in Providence, All Schools in Pawtucket, Met East Bay School in Newport, William M. Davis Vocational and Technical High School in Lincoln, and Rhode Island Transitional Academy at Roger Williams University. .

Administrators expelled students early: Barrington, Burrillville, Cranston, Coventry, Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Johnston, Scituate, Smithfield, West Warwick and Woonsocket.

Cumberland Superintendent Philip D. said: “I have visited many of our schools and have found that the classrooms are certainly warm and that the buildings with classrooms on the second floors are warmer in temperature,” Thornton said in a letter to families sent Wednesday night. “To accommodate the warm weather, administrators and teachers are making adjustments to physical education classes and the recess schedule and providing alternative learning areas for students as needed.”

“Water is readily available to everyone. However, even with these adjustments, the weather forecast for Thursday indicates warmer temperatures.

The age of schools is a factor in capital

It’s no secret that Providence’s school buildings tend to be old and often lack air conditioning, with 14 buildings more than 40 years old. According to a 2022 report by Downs Construction Group commissioned by PPSD, the average age of schools in Providence is about 70 years old.

“We know our facilities are old/outdated,” Marybeth Calabro, president of the Providence Teachers Union, said in a text message. “We also know how much money will be required to modernize, modernize and in some cases rebuild 21st century schools.”

The $235 million bond approved by voters in November will provide some necessary improvements and “make it so we don’t have to close 19 schools,” she said. According to the Downs Report, there are more than $900 million in infrastructure deficiencies in Providence schools.

Given the current circumstances, Calabro said the decision to cancel classes Thursday was the right one.

“State and district leadership made the difficult but appropriate decision to close schools without air conditioning,” she said. “Due to the excessive heat, the classrooms were unbearably hot and created unhealthy conditions for students and staff.”

Chanda Womack, executive director of the Rhode Island Southeast Asian Education Alliance, was more blunt in her assessment.

“It’s hot and the schools don’t have air conditioning,” Womack said via text message. “(PPSD) The buildings are garbage. It’s easy.”

Providence Area Public Schools Committee member Terrell Stevens said he visited several schools Wednesday.

“I was definitely sweating at some of the schools I visited yesterday,” he said. “I definitely think a lot of our schools need to be upgraded, and they don’t have air conditioning.”

However, for Morales, the fact that many schools do not have air conditioning makes him question the priorities of district leaders.

“They don’t care about the kids,” she said.

PPSD is working to improve buildings, promising to invest more than $50 million in facility repairs and improvements by 2030. Just over 7%, about $31 million, of the department’s fiscal year 2024 budget is scheduled to go toward school building maintenance costs.

Providence Schools also has a $600 million building improvement plan aimed at updating technology and functionality of school structures, Cullinan said.

“After opening only one new school in the past 14 years, Providence is scheduled to open three new schools and as many this year as part of the intervention,” she said. “The projects are expected to receive compensation estimated at 91% from the state.”

At the top of the list of improvements is the 85-year-old Mount Pleasant High School, which has deficiencies amounting to about $151 million according to the Downs report. The school could face demolition, renovation or a combination of the two by 2025. The costs of that project — which start at $120 million — will be covered by money from the $235 million bond.

However, for Morales, she said this is an opportunity to learn, but this time not so much for the students.

“I hope PPSD learns from it,” she said. “And maybe they’ll fix the air conditioning.”

Rhode Island Current is part of the States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The Rhode Island Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janine L. Weisman with questions: info@rhodeislandcurrent.com. Follow Rhode Island Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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