Denver Public Schools (DPS) is facing backlash from parents, teachers, and students for rejecting a request from a principal to end school early due to the extreme heat. The principal of Traylor Academy, an elementary school without air conditioning, had asked the district to allow students to go home early on Wednesday, August 23, 2023, as the temperature inside the school reached 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, the district denied the request, saying that only one classroom had exceeded the threshold of 85 degrees and that the weather forecast for Thursday was cooler.
The principal informed her staff about the district’s decision in an email, which was leaked to 9NEWS by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA). In the email, she expressed her frustration and disappointment with the district’s response and said that she was advocating daily for the kids and community to get early release for the heat. She also told her staff that they would refill the fridge with beverages and hand out popsicles again for the rest of the week. She advised them to dress comfortably and share with parents that they were asking and getting denied for a heat day.
Many parents, teachers, and students were outraged by the district’s denial of the heat day request, saying that it was unsafe and unfair for students to learn in such hot conditions. They argued that the district should have a clear and consistent policy for heat days and that it should prioritize the health and well-being of students and staff over academic performance.
DPS Defends Its Decision to Make Students Stay in School
In a statement to 9NEWS, DPS defended its decision to make students stay in school despite the heat. The district said that it based its decision on temperatures in multiple classrooms in the school the day before and what the anticipated temperature would be in Denver for the next day. The district said that Traylor Academy reported only one classroom over 85 degrees on Wednesday and that Thursday’s high temperatures were expected to be lower than the previous days this week. The district also said that it would work with Traylor Academy to ensure that they would have a successful day of learning on Thursday.
The district did not respond to multiple requests from 9NEWS asking how many schools had their requests to send students home early this week because of the heat denied. According to DPS’s website, there are 55 schools in the district that do not have air conditioning or have partial air conditioning. The district said that it was working on installing air conditioning in all schools by 2024 as part of its bond program.
The district also said that it was up to each individual principal to request an early release because of heat and that the district would approve or deny the request based on various factors. The district said that it followed guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on heat-related illness prevention and response.
DCTA Calls for More Transparency and Collaboration from DPS
The DCTA, which represents more than 3,000 teachers in DPS, criticized the district for its lack of transparency and collaboration with educators on heat-related issues. The union said that there was no clear communication or criteria from the district on how to request or approve a heat day. The union also said that there was a noticeable hesitation on the district’s side to establish or communicate thresholds that would support a school’s ability to call for a school closure or early release due to heat.
The union president, Rob Gould, said that educators should have more input and autonomy in deciding whether to cancel or shorten classes because of heat. He said that educators knew their students best and could assess their needs better than anyone else. He also said that educators should not have to worry about being penalized or reprimanded for requesting a heat day.
Gould also urged the district to expedite its efforts to install air conditioning in all schools and to provide more resources and support for schools without air conditioning. He said that popsicles and water bottles were not enough to keep students cool and hydrated in extreme heat. He suggested that the district should consider alternative options such as shifting school hours, providing transportation to cooling centers, or implementing remote learning during heat waves.
Other Cities Adopt Heat Action Plans to Protect Students and Staff
While DPS struggles with managing heat-related challenges in its schools, other cities have adopted heat action plans to protect students and staff from the adverse effects of high temperatures. For example, Delhi, one of the hottest and most populous cities in India, has prepared a heat action plan that includes altering school timings, suspending non-essential water use, providing uninterrupted power supply to health facilities, and surveying vulnerable locations daily to mitigate the impact of extreme heat on susceptible populations in peak summers.
The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), which prepared the plan and submitted it to the Centre last month, also plans a pilot project to paint roofs white in identified areas to help keep the indoor areas cooler. The plan relies on heat wave forecasts from the India Meteorological Department for the next seven days for issuing color-coded alerts to the local population. A red alert will be triggered when the maximum temperature exceeds the normal temperature by at least 6 degrees Celsius. An orange alert will be issued if the maximum temperature is 4 to 5 degrees Celsius above normal, while a yellow alert will be given for a departure from normal ranging from 0 to 3.9 degrees Celsius.
The plan also outlines specific actions and responsibilities for various stakeholders such as government agencies, health care providers, educational institutions, media outlets, and community groups. The plan aims to raise awareness, reduce exposure, enhance preparedness, and improve response to heat-related emergencies.