Cooler classrooms should be DOE priority

The effects of Hawaii’s heat and humidity this summer took its toll on everyone on Kauai. We took refuge in air conditioned restaurants. We swam in the ocean. We sat in front of fans. We sought out shade. We prayed for trade winds. We waited for cooler conditions, and thankfully, they arrived. When it’s so hot and humid, it’s hard to sleep. It’s difficult to feel comfortable in our homes. So imagine how challenging it can be to learn in Kauai school classrooms.

Many do not have air conditioners. Many are just plain too hot to concentrate. One thing we know heat does, is make you sleepy. Who wants to study when it’s 105 degrees in the room? Just ask Sue Schott. The Kekaha Elementary fourth-grade teacher measured the heat index in her classroom from late August through mid-September and it averaged between 104 and 113 degrees. That’s too much for a teacher to teach effectively and students to learn effectively.

While things have cooled off on Kauai and the rains have returned, many classrooms remain uncomfortably warm. This isn’t a fluke or freak of Mother Nature. Some believe it’s going to remain warmer than years past. The long-term solution is air conditioning units for all classrooms, at least electric fans in the short term. Yes, this is certainly going to be expensive, and it means upgrading electrical systems, but it’s something that needs to be done for the sake of teachers and students.

The Department of Education is moving in that direction, and is installing about 250 portable air conditioners in schools throughout Hawaii and is looking to buy hundreds more. Requests for air conditioners came from principals who want them due to higher temperatures — heat records were set this summer — as cooling trade winds have declined.

Students just won’t and don’t learn as well in classrooms that are too warm and you can’t blame them. Not even drinking a lot of water can completely fend off the effects of heat and humidity. There are also health considerations, too, which the state has recognized. The Hawaii State Department of Education and the Department of Health recently issued guidance to parents, schools and health aides in an effort to prevent heat illness. Letters will be sent home to parents providing recommendations to help students prepare for hot days. Schools will also receive guidance to identify heat illness-related symptoms and action steps should a student or staff member become ill. And last week, DOE announced a partnership with Hawaii 3R’s to raise funds toward cooling schools.

“It was important to collaborate with public health professionals to offer sound advice to schools on how to better deal with the extreme heat teachers and students have been experiencing in classrooms,” stated Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

The state’s efforts are appreciated, and it’s clear DOE officials recognize the need to act, but more is left to do. We encourage the state DEO to keep cool, comfortable classrooms as a priority so students have the best opportunity to learn — by staying awake.


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