TV6 Investigates: Local schools with no air conditioning change schedule

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 8:53 PM CDT
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TIPTON, Iowa (KWQC) - Temperatures are sweltering and some schools in our area are not equipped to deal with it.

Student in six different districts across Iowa and Illinois are sitting inside classrooms that have no air conditioning, and with the unusually high temperatures schools are forced to cut their hours.

“It’s really hot and I can’t really think much,” said Thomas Wiley, a senior at Tipton High School, which is releasing its students each day this week around 12:30 p.m.

It’s the same for Mercer Junior and Senior high schools. Both Durant and Wilton School Districts, which start on Wednesday, have announced that they will be releasing students at 1:15 on their first day of school.

Depending on the heat, all schools in the Rock Ridge District will also be releasing students each day at either 2:10 or 1:30 p.m. depending on the heat, and schools in the Amboy District will be letting kids out at 1:15 p.m.

Each classroom in Tipton high School has multiple fans going, with windows open to keep students cool. However, that’s not enough to combat rising temperatures.

“With high heat indexes getting up to over 100 [degrees], by 8:30 classrooms are sitting at 85 degrees,” said Superintendent Jason Wester.

Wester says there is a community bond discussion on September 14 that could potentially allow air conditioning to be installed, and the school desperately needs it.

“It really doesn’t make for an ideal learning environment,” added Wester.

HVAC installation can be extremely expensive. For the average home, which is a fraction of the size of a school, central air costs between 3 to 7 thousand dollars, according to HomeAdvisor.

School districts in rural areas, such as the Durant School District, do not have that kind of money to deal with. Superintendent Joe Burnett told TV6 over the phone that the district is well aware of the struggles that students face when indoor temperatures are high, and although they are about to get an assessment of their facilities, the district will need a bond for central air installation.

It is a similar deal for the Rockridge School District in Illinois. Superintendent Perry Miller stated in an email that their buildings are undergoing an assessment that will likely not be complete until July of 2022.

These solutions are long term, but there is an immediate problem. Social studies teacher Chad Rezac says he has been dealing with no air conditioning for 19 years and knows the learning is low when temperatures are high.

“You walk in, you see sweat run down the side of their faces,” said Rezac about his students during the first week of school, “you want to start getting into things, and the mindset just isn’t there when the temperature is at the level it is right now.”

Parents who have to arrange picking their kids up earlier in the day are just as frustrated as students, teachers and district officials.

Wallace Pearson, a grandparent of twins who go to Tipton High School, says the school’s lack in air conditioning happens every year.

“Whenever it gets hot here they have to let kids out and you lose a lot of education that way,” said Pearson.

According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, 41 percent of school districts nationwide, or around 36 thousand schools, do not have air conditioning, which multiple studies have shown tampers with learning.

“We know if you have air conditioning, or a cooler place, it’s better conducive to learning,” said Rezac.

“How can you study when you’re sitting in there,” said Pearson, “the teachers have a hard time right along with the students.”

According to a study by the Penn State Center for Education, ideal learning temperatures for subjects like math and reading are between 68 and 74 degrees. The National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that students lose an equivalent of two full days of learning when an non-air conditioned building gets as little as one degree over normal, which the Department of Energy states is 78 degrees.

“You really have to put things on hold,” said Rezac.

The Tipton School District says they urge their community to vote for part of the upcoming bond to go to the installation of central air. The difference, Superintendent Wester said, will be “night and day.”

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