Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Teaching Children In Dangerous Classrooms: It's How We Roll

A press release came to my email box today from the Newark Teachers Union:

NEWARK, NJ — Abington Ave is a crime scene. Zero planning, even less consideration.

As one parent explained, "My kids came home last week and yesterday in soaking wet shirts from sweating. Abington is worse than most of the schools right now. They are fixing the school's exterior and the  windows are all covered in plastic. These poor kids have ZERO fresh air. They are surviving on fans that the teachers have supplied! The secretaries have AC units in the office and are also unable to use
them because they are covered in plastic and sealed."

God only knows what air they are breathing in at this school. Deputy Superintendents Brad Haggerty and Peter Turnamian have no kids here, so they rejected any suggestions and ordered all schools remain open.

NTU is sending help. Hopefully, the Mayor's office will too.

John M Abeigon
President- Director of Organization
Newark Teachers Union

Meanwhile, in Camden, the aunt of a student at Bonsall Elementary School posts a video (which I can't embed here because it's on Facebook, so click the link to watch) showing how students on the two lower floors are sweltering in classrooms with no air conditioning.

But up on the third floor, it's nice and cool. Why? Because that floor was taken over by the Uncommon charter chain, which somehow allowed the district to magically acquire the funds necessary for the school's renovation. Except somehow, when it came to HVAC needs, the floors housing classrooms for the public district schools didn't get refurbished in time for the start of the school year.

Camden's State Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard is doing his best not to repeat the public relations mistakes of his former colleague in Newark, Cami Anderson. So the district quickly took to Facebook and opened up the charm spigot when the video started to go viral:
Camden City School District Thanks for sharing, xxx xxxx*. It’s hot, and too many of our buildings are too old, which becomes clear on days like today. The good news is that A/C is on its way to the entire Bonsall school building (the youngest students currently have them on the third floor). Over the summer the whole building was repainted, every Bonsall classroom received a SMARTboard, we gave Bonsall teachers a head start on the DonorsChoose program (, and the principal hosted a welcome back breakfast for staff yesterday. Please give us a call if you have any questions...
SMARTboards are great; I use my all the time. But they aren't much use if your students are melting. Why didn't CCSD prioritize HVAC needs over buying more technology?

In addition, the excuse that the younger students are getting the A/C first is a bit of a stretch, because the plan for the takeover of Bonsall by Uncommon called for having the students in the lower grades transfer to Uncommon's supervision, while the older students remained under CCSD's umbrella. No matter how you slice it, the charter kids have A/C, and the district kids don't.

Go to about 7:00 to hear the video-maker complain to the charter school "leader" about this inequity, then listen to that "leader's" response. A better example of whitesplaining you will not find.

You really have to wonder what is going through the minds of Camden's and Newark's school "leaders." No business in their right mind would have allowed a reconstruction that forces windows to remain shut to take place in early September without A/C. And if Bonsall were under one principal, chances are she would have found a way to at least rotate the students in and out of the third floor so they could beat the heat.

Look, we can debate about whether Newark and Camden waste money on their schools. We can argue about who's to blame for the fact that students are in rooms without air conditioning while outside temperatures are in the 90s.

But I can guarantee you this: if the governor's office suddenly lost its A/C today, there would be a small army of technicians descending on the capitol. Same over at the Legislature. And at NJDOE. And at the central offices for NPS and CCSD.

Because it's wrong to force people to work in very uncomfortable and potentially dangerous conditions. So why do we allow children to learn in these same conditions?

And why does it take state control and the expansion of charter schools to get schools the funds for basics like A/C? Why haven't these children been in safe, comfortable classrooms from the start?

The infamous "Waterfall Staircase" at Trenton Central High.

* Just to err on the side of caution, I've removed the name of the original poster of this video.

1 comment:

  1. When I was teaching, we (the teachers) would bring fans to school in the early weeks of September and in late May and June, if the temperatures were off the charts. Not to mention that 30 plus kids in a small box generate enough heat all by itself. The principal would set up 3 or 4 large fans in the cafeteria/all purpose room. On especially brutal days, I would allow the kids to bring bottles of water to the class; it was a bother but it cut down on frequent class trips to the water fountains. Mercifully, the school district would declare a half day and send the kids home on the 97+ degree days.


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