ELIZABETH, NJ—The parents of Elizabeth Public School students are saying that their children are coming home sick.
According to parents, teachers and students, many school buildings have little or no air conditioning, with many reporting room temperatures in excess of 86 degrees.
Several parents have also said that some students with conditions like asthma are having difficulty in the heat and, with a number of them becoming ill.
In addition, several sources state that fans are not being permitted in classrooms.
Kason Little, a student at Christian J. Bollwage Finance Academy in Elizabeth, said the situation has become unbearable for both teachers and students.
“Exactly 23 schools in Elizabeth are currently without air conditioning,” Little said. “This is not the type of environment for students to be taught a quality education at all.”
Little also questions how educators can be effective in those conditions.
Teachers have been expressing concerns about the lack of air conditioning in classrooms as well.
“I have been a teacher in Elizabeth for 18 years and I have worked in our buildings without ac my entire career,” said one teacher who requested anonymity. “It is bad, beyond hot. Kids cannot learn. They are so hot. You walk in the morning and the hot air hits you.”
The teacher also claims that computers and starboards don't work due to the excessive heat.
“I have three industrial fans that I bought with my own money,” she said. “Nothing is given to us in Elizabeth. Teachers pay for it or we don't get it.”
Parents and advocates say that this issue has persisted for years and that their complaints have been ignored by the school board.
Sima Farid, who is running for school board this year said that the board has neglected the city’s students.
“I have been a PTO president in our district for almost a decade and am sad to say of recent years I see a gross lack of empathy, knowledge and understanding needed to provide for our children's safety by this board,” she said. “With so many current ethics charges and irresponsible actions that our current board’s majority have against them and who are comprised mostly of city and county employees with no children in our district. it's no wonder the students are suffering in this heat and they don't even take notice.”
A statement issued by the Elizabeth School District states that it has taken steps to address the issue.
“The health and well-being of our students and staff is the district’s top priority,” Hugelmeyer said. “The recent heat wave has posed challenges but has been aggressively met to protect health, in accordance with state, city, fire safety and insurances rules and regulation. While we understand there was some discomfort, every appropriate step was taken.”
Hugelmeyer states that classroom temperatures are being monitored continuously and that shades are lowered at the beginning of each day to keep the sun from heating classrooms.
According to the district, students have been moved to air-conditioned all-purpose rooms, cafeterias and similar designated cooler rooms and that students were moved from higher floors to lower floors. Emergency water is allegedly also in place at each school, with frequent breaks given to enable hydration, while physical education and similar activities have been limited.
Board candidate Christina Cunha-Moreira, founder of Elizabeth Parents and Students Care and an organizer for Save Our Schools NJ said that she, along with other parents, have been advocating for updating electrical to our older schools for at least three years.
“Nothing has been done,” Cunha-Moreira said. “Our concerns fall on deaf ears. There are two inequities in our schools, where some kids are in brand new schools with air conditioning and other kids are dehydrated, nose bleeds, asthma attacks, fatigued. This includes teachers and staff. Yet we have money to pay a political public relations guy and add benches to the front of several schools. We don’t need benches or PR. We need a healthy learning environment.”
Luis Couto, the district’s Director of Plant, Property and Equipment, said the district must comply with the state’s Uniform Fire Code by order of the Department of Education, which prohibits personal fans and similar devices.
Additionally, state law and regulations provide for the relocation of classrooms due to heat only after two hours of sustained temperatures above 89 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cuoto claims that those conditions have not occurred at all since the beginning of the school year.
“The district has taken every appropriate step by law and regulation,” Cuoto said.
According to the EBOE President of Stanley Neron, 30 of the district’s schools and annexes are fully air conditioned, while the remainder have air-conditioned gyms, cafeterias, auditoriums or multi-purpose rooms which are air conditioned and serve as cooling areas when temperatures exceed safe levels.
“The board has been implementing a program to improve air conditioning at schools and anticipates an upcoming capital budget to include additional repair, replacement and installation of air condition,” Neron said. “The board recognizes the comfort of our students is critical to their learning and is taking all possible steps to improve conditions at our older schools.”
Parents say they will be closely monitoring this situation.