Parents frustrated with Baltimore County schools heat-related closures

Posted at 5:45 PM, Aug 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-30 06:19:43-04

Students at 37 Baltimore County schools without air-conditioning were off again Monday because of the heat. It was the second time since school started last Wednesday.

The closures were due to a new heat policy that mandates schools without air-conditioning close if the heat index is forecast to reach 90 degrees and above by 11 a.m. Some parents had been pushing sometime for the policy but now that's it taken effect, not everyone agrees with it.

“If you're a single parent and you make too much to get assistance, you're just pretty much stuck,” Daria Fletcher said.

Her 7-year-old daughter's school was closed Monday. Pleasant Plains Elementary is one of several dozens of schools still without central air. Her neighbor, Lily Rowe, was one of the advocates pushing for the heat closure policy.

“We were trying to make sure that children are not sitting in 100 degree classrooms getting really, really sick,” said Rowe, who also started the 2,000+ member Facebook group “BCPS Parents & Teachers for Equitable Facilities & Portable AC."  There will be a rally Tuesday morning outside of Towson Historic Courthouse where Rowe and supporters will be handing out "AC Band-Aids" to raise awareness of the portable A/C issue in Baltimore County schools.

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Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz supports air-conditioning in all county schools but said it's not something that can happen immediately, which is why Rowe has been pushing for portable A/C units. Governor Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and State Senator Johnny Ray Salling also support having portable A/C units in classrooms without air-conditioning.

“Is it a Band-Aid? Yeah, it is, but at the same time it's a fix for period of time until we can put the right things in place,” said Senator Salling (R-Baltimore County).

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz sees portable A/C as Band-Aid approach and called it fiscally irresponsible.

“Portable units cost money, so we want to make sure that we have the capability of doing it. Even portable units could not be installed overnight. We can't just go to Home Depot and load up a U-Haul and bring those portable units into the school, we have to go through procurement law,” Kamenetz said.

Rowe claims there are ways to maneuver around the red tape. Kamenetz said the county is permanently installing air-conditioning in the right way.

Fletcher, however, feels like her and her daughter are being negatively affected by the political back and forth.

“They're not looking at widowed mothers, they're not looking at single parents, they're not looking at parents who make minimum wage and are trying to support their families they're not looking at all of that. They're only looking at this is where I stand, this is what I'm going to do for right now, and this is what's going to get me what I want. They're not looking at what's good for everyone,” Fletcher said.

The missed school days will not have to be made up. However, Board of Education member Marisol Johnson said she’s heard parent’s concerns about missed instruction and fiscal concerns. In an email to ABC2 News she said,

“As a Board Member I do my best to hear both sides of the story. I am worried about the likely extended out-of-school time if the policy stays as is.  While this week looks to be cooler than originally projected, it’s very likely we’ll miss multiple days in the next two weeks … If we are able to make any changes to the policy, it will allow for a better balance in safety for our students and access to education.”

She added that she plans to propose an amendment to the policy at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

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