Portland teachers document hot classrooms, sick students
As Portland Public Schools kicked off a new school year in late August, teachers and students were met with sweltering classrooms. The district now faces an Oregon Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) complaint from the teachers union.
Many PPS campuses are old buildings with no air conditioning. Teachers took photos of thermometers in their classrooms at more than 90 degrees, with some having a heat index of more than 100 degrees. That led to some students getting sick.
"We received reports of students and staff having heat-related illnesses this past week, including a student throwing up until they passed out and having a serious medical situation," Jacque Dixon, vice president of the Portland Association of Teachers, told the Portland School Board Tuesday, Sept. 6. She said the teachers union requested a heat illness prevention plan from the district, in line with OSHA guidelines. PPS's plan focused on students and staff staying hydrated, drinking plenty of water throughout the day and bringing reusable water bottles to school. Dixon said the district also asked custodians to come in at 6 a.m. and open the windows to let the hot air out, but many teachers arrived at classrooms that still had the windows shut at 7:30 a.m. during the first week of school.
The union asked teachers to document the temperatures in their rooms.
"We got some pictures of literally, temperatures of over 110 degrees in these buildings," Dixon told the board. "I'm just bringing this to your attention because I know there have been complaints, concerns from family and community about the condition of our buildings for a long time."
Some of the schools with soaring indoor temperatures included Sellwood Middle School, Ockley Green Middle School and Ida B. Wells High School, but Dixon noted several campuses had temperatures in the 80s and 90s.
The teachers union published a list of concerns and recommendations, suggesting future school years start after Labor Day, to reduce the number of high temperature school days, and provide air conditioning units or fans and microphones for teachers to use in excessively hot spaces.
While remodeled and new campuses in PPS, like the brand new Lincoln High School downtown, offer air conditioning, the majority of schools in PPS don't.
Lincoln High School Principal Peyton Chapman welcomed the new climate-controlled building this year for students, noting in prior years, the heat was often a safety issue.
"We used to be, you know, by 1 o'clock, wondering if we had to close school, and we were sweating, and you know, it was just really hard for students to learn," Chapman told KATU news on the first day of school. "It's hard to stay awake … they fall asleep in class."
Board member Michelle DePass noted that the city of Portland is moving toward requiring air conditioning in all commercial buildings.
"It seems like an urgent issue this week because it's really hot and it's getting hotter," DePass said. "At some point, we won't have a choice, it's just a human right. … It's one of those conditions where it's getting hotter and we haven't prepared for it yet, but there's quite a bit of action happening at the city level for buildings such as ours."
PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero addressed the district's hot campuses, acknowledging that extreme heat will only get worse in the future. Guerrero noted PPS plans to establish a heat wave protocol in line with the district's climate crisis resilience plan.
"We recognize that the majority of our buildings, given our modernization efforts when we started in recent years, are not yet entirely ready for the changing weather patterns," Guerrero said. "As your superintendent, I just wanted to assure you that we're working on a tangible solution for this in the long term."
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