Hawai‘i Department of Education

The temperature of some public school classrooms in Hawai‘i exceed 90°F.

It is getting hotter and hotter. Teachers and students have dreaded their return to classrooms that are warmer inside than it is outside. With lack of action or funding toward creating cooler classrooms, the situation does not seem to be looking up. How can anyone pay attention when trying not to pass out from the heat? Some public school classrooms in Hawai‘i are way too hot to function in. Things need to get cooler in order to create an optimal learning environment for teachers, students, and parents.

Summer is getting hotter

To no one’s surprise here in the islands, the presence of El Niño is very apparent. In fact, last summer was reported as the hottest one yet. Early September 2015, an Ewa Beach elementary school teacher was rushed to the emergency room due to heat exhaustion. She reported feeling extremely fatigued and felt like collapsing. This was no minor incident. Ms. Pimentel was treated for hours at the hospital before she was cleared to leave. The school teacher also brought up the concerning issue of her elementary students vomiting as a result of the sweltering heat inside the classroom. We do not want this to be something that parents have to fear when sending their children to school every day.

Like many teachers, Pimentel bought her own fans for her class because the Department of Education (DOE) commented that, “Those projects that involve air conditioning can face delays depending on the electrical capacity of the campus.” Nevertheless, school officials need to move quickly in order to ensure the safety of everyone on campus. Other classes have also accepted donated fans and raised money to purchase fans to cool off.

The heat makes it hard to focus

The Westview High School Beaverton Science Research Club in Oregon won the Special Achievement Award from the Environmental Protection Agency for a supervised student study on how different temperatures affect a student’s classroom performance. The study’s results showed an overall decrease in students’ performance in warmer temperatures. The warm temperatures in this test were 73.6°F and 81°F. The temperature of some public school classrooms here in Hawai‘i can exceed 90°F. Students are not given an optimal learning environment because they are unable to focus on their school work.

Finding a way to beat the classroom heat

As the new school year rolls around, no one wants to make the same mistakes as last year. Not only are the extreme temperature of some public school classrooms here in the state not an ideal setting for learning or teaching, but they also create dangerous conditions that threaten students’ and teachers’ health. We know that the problem will not get fixed overnight, but this is a serious issue and cannot take the backseat any longer. The Department of Education needs to be sure keep the public well informed on the progress of fitting classrooms with proper temperature control.

Air conditioning is not the only answer. There are also alternative ways we can beat the heat. Teachers without any means of cooling students, need to get the funding to buy fans for their classrooms so they do not have to do so out of pocket. Classes should also have equal access to water fountains. Staying hydrated is a great way to combat fatigue caused by the heat and promote healthy brain function. Making sure there is a sufficient amount of functional water fountains in all areas of the campus is an easy step that can be taken toward ensuring the wellbeing of everyone at school.

Christina Torres, a teacher at the University Laboratory (public charter) School, and a member of the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association had this to say about the issue:

“The DOE needs to continue to put cooling schools first because it is a sign they are putting students first," Torres said. "While it may seem trivial, feeling comfortable and healthy in the classroom is the first step to ensuring kids learn. I can have the best lesson in the world planned, but it’ll be much harder to engage with students at all if they are overheated to the point of illness. If Hawai‘i truly values taking care of our future, that means ensuring students have learning environments that are at a basic level of decency and comfort.”