DENVER (KDVR) — Students at more than 30 Denver Public Schools will be going home early Wednesday and Thursday due to extreme heat and lack of air conditioning.
Many of Denver’s schools are decades old and not equipped to handle multiple consecutive days where the highs are near 100 degrees. Currently, 49 schools in DPS do not have air conditioning.
“There’s advice that goes out to all the schools, to all the teachers, to all the custodians in the buildings: close the doors at this time, draw the shades here and turn off the lights and do all these things. So we’ve done all the things to meet that and it’s not enough,” Denver Classroom Teachers Association President Robert Gould said.
According to Gould, multiple Denver teachers sent him photos Tuesday showing the temperature inside their classrooms.
“One of the thermometers that I got today was 88 degrees in the classroom,” he said.
He said the photo was taken at Steck Elementary School around 1:30 p.m.
“When it’s hitting that 80-degree mark, you’re sweating and you’re sweating all day,” he said. “It’s too hot when you’re trying to learn and all you can think about is the sweat pouring down your forehead.”
Gould says the beginning of the school year has been getting noticeably hotter over the last decade.
“Especially in the last 10 years we’ve seen that. The last five years is when we put contract language in so we could have these discussions at the school level because it’s happening more frequently,” Gould said.
In 2020, DPS got a bond to pay to install air conditioning at 24 schools. Work was finished on six schools in 2021. In 2022, work began on eight schools but DPS says it can not finish until the fall due to supply chain issues. Nine more schools are scheduled to receive the upgrade during the summer of 2023.
However, there is no funding and no plans for air conditioning at 31 DPS school buildings.
“Heat mitigation is now becoming a human right,” Gould said. “OSHA standards, our office buildings are set in the 70s, right? And we don’t have that same expectation of our classroom? It’s mind-boggling.”
DPS has also recently reworked its school calendar in hopes of avoiding the hottest days of August.
“We’ve done that. We shifted the calendar, we’re starting later than any other school district in Colorado,” Gould said. “Should we shift more? I think the challenge is, yes we could go further into September but then that would mean that we actually have school in June and it’s hot in June too.”
He suggested it may be time for the state to step in to help fund air conditioning in Colorado schools that do not have it.
“We’ve done as much fudging as we can with the school calendar. Now it’s time to really invest in our schools, invest in the health and safety of our students,” he said.
In the meantime, Denver schools without cooling systems will implement “heat mitigation strategies” including adding industrial fans to buildings, bringing in portable air conditioners and trying to trap cool air inside the building overnight.