Educators rally for air conditioning, later school start dates in Denver

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DENVER -- A group of parents and educators rallied outside Denver Public Schools' main office building downtown Monday in support of air conditioning and later start dates.

The rally comes in the midst of one of the warmest Augusts in Denver history. On the first day of school, Aug. 19, the high temperature in Denver was 99 degrees.

"I had a teacher message me over Facebook she had a heatstroke," Tay Anderson, one of the organizers and an educator with DPS, said. "What we saw last week is not safe or welcoming."

Last week, FOX31 went inside Steadman Elementary in Park Hill, where we found temperatures above 90 degrees. Fans were on and blinds were closed but conditions were brutal for students and educators.

Denver Public Schools has said more than 60 schools remain without air conditioning. It is estimated it would cost $200 million to outfit them all appropriately.

"I think one of the biggest demands we need is one, push the calendar back to start after Labor Day or two, install AC units or cooling units in every Denver school," Anderson said.

Later school start times have been discussed across the country but there has not been a major policy discussion in Colorado.

In 2016, Maryland's governor signed an executive order to have all schools start after Labor Day. It was recently changed by the Maryland Legislature.

The Colorado Education Association does not appear to be focusing on later school start times -- instead, they want the state and districts to focus on funding so air conditioning can be installed.

"If we just had appropriate funding and create the learning environment that our students deserve we wouldn't need to talk about start and end times," Amie Baca-Oehlert, the president of the CEA, said.

"We still have a half-billion dollars that we are underfunding our schools in Colorado," said Baca-Oehlert.

Denver Public Schools confirmed to FOX31 they are looking at increasing air conditioning in schools however school start times is a much different manner.

Will Jones, a spokesman with DPS, sent FOX31 a document highlighting all the benefits of starting school in mid-August:

"Each year, DPS runs a calendar committee that is inclusive of DPS teachers and parents to advise on the many challenging tradeoffs that must be made when setting the calendar. Here are a few of the reasons, in no specific order, that we have started the school year in mid-August for the past 20 years:

  • Over the years, we have heard a strong preference from teachers and families for the full week break at Thanksgiving and Spring Break and two weeks during the winter holidays.
  • Starting in mid-August allows schools to complete the first semester prior to winter break. A later start date would require the first semester to end after the return from winter holiday and/or shortened Thanksgiving and winter breaks.
  • We’ve heard strong concerns from many DPS families about the hardship of having a gap between the end of summer camps and summer jobs and the start of the school year. Our current start date minimizes that gap based on the current schedules of the many organized summer activities that Denver kids participate in, without having to shorten holiday breaks.
  • Additionally we’ve heard input from high school students and DPS families about the ability to compete for and start summer jobs and internships if they are not able to begin until late June/July.
  • We’ve heard concerns from students and families about the interaction between a later district start date and the interaction with the Colorado High School Sports Association’s statewide schedule for high school sports given that school districts in our area tend to have a similar start date to our current start.
  • We’ve heard concerns from students and families that a later start date would mean two weeks or so fewer days of instruction prior to students having to take college admission exams such as the SAT."
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