MILWAUKEE — The heat is on and it’s being felt in Milwaukee classrooms. The Milwaukee Public School District says it transitioned to a half day Wednesday due to high temperatures, the district’s mask requirement and a lack of air conditioning in classrooms.
Superintendent Dr. Keith Posley says just 17 percent of MPS school buildings are fully equipped with air conditioning and one out of every five buildings doesn’t have AC whatsoever. Dr. Posley says he’s pushing for the district to invest in air conditioning for all of its buildings, but he says the cost would be enormous.
MPS students say even a half day inside classrooms was nearly unbearable Wednesday without air conditioning.
"It's burning, like burning,” said MPS freshman Kyrea Hicks. “I feel like I'm melting and I don't like it."
“Everybody else be so hot to the point they start getting off task,” said MPS freshman Azayvier Scott.
Black Educators Caucus MKE Chairwoman Angela Harris says it isn’t just a loss of learning she’s concerned about.
"I know that other parents have contacted me and told me their children have called and complained to them about feeling symptoms of heat exhaustion, nauseous, feeling very lethargic and tired,” she said.
Harris is one of several MPS teachers calling on the district to come up with long-term solutions.
Dr. Posley says he wants a portion of the federal COVID-19 relief funds that have already been allocated to the district to be used to tackle its lack of air conditioning, but he says small buildings would cost around $1.5 million a piece to retrofit, and far more for larger schools.
“We’ve got some buildings in the fleet over a hundred years old, easily, a lot of them, and so therefore, to bring those buildings up to what we need to do for AC, and I was just talking about $2.5 million, and that’s a starting point at some of the big, large comprehensive high schools,” Dr. Posley said.
MPS is far from the only school district without air conditioning in a majority of its classrooms. According to USA Today, 30 percent of public schools in the United States are not fully air conditioned. Several other school districts in southeastern Wisconsin have made massive investments in air conditioning over the past few years. The Fond du Lac School District recently passed a referendum which will in part put $7 million toward AC.
According to the American Economic Association, each degree warmer than 75° in classrooms without air conditioning reduced that year’s learning by 1 percent.
The study found hot school days disproportionately impact minority students, accounting for roughly 5 percent of the racial achievement gap on standardized tests.
While Harris understands providing all MPS schools with air conditioning takes time and money, she says industrial fans and individual AC units should be in each classroom in the meantime.
"This isn't the first year that we've dealt with issues like this at early start schools. So we need to address the issue of going back to school in mid-August when temperatures are so high, knowing that our buildings aren't air conditioned,” she said.
Dr. Posley says the threshold for canceling school is typically a heat index of 95° or higher. With more warm days ahead, MPS is encouraging students to wear loose, light colored clothing and to bring water to school. Dr. Posley says masks will still be required in school to limit the spread of COVID-19.
TMJ4 News did see a mobile air conditioning unit parked and connected to the school district's central office. We reached out to the district, but have not heard back.