Unprecedented Heat Day Closes Schools

Safety concerns caused Shaker to follow the lead of other schools in Northeast Ohio


Emilie Evans

“So this may be precedent-setting. But I know a lot of schools are dealing with it,” said John Morris. “One hundred and nine schools, last time I checked, had called school off today.”

Shaker schools will remain closed tomorrow because of extreme heat and humidity.

In a first, the district cancelled school this morning via a 6:39 a.m. text alert that cited “expected extreme heat.” Today’s weather forecast showed a high of 87, humidity of about 60 percent and the heat index in the high 80s and low 90s. This afternoon, a 5:06 p.m. text alert stated that school would remain closed and after-school activities cancelled tomorrow as well. Tomorrow will be even warmer, with a high of 90, similar humidity to today and a heat index high of 97 degrees.

According to Director of Communications Scott Stephens, Shaker was one of some 80 districts closed throughout the area today. At 7:50 p.m., WKYC.com listed 114 school closures for tomorrow, most of which were parochial and charter schools. Bedford, Mentor and North Royalton public schools were among the public schools reported closed tomorrow. Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools closed K-8 buildings today and tomorrow; the district’s renovated high school remains open.

Shaker elementary school buildings are not air conditioned. The middle school and high school feature air conditioning only in some classrooms. The high school’s third floor classrooms are uncomfortably hot even on typical fall and spring school days.

“Once the heat index gets into the mid- to upper-90s, which is not uncommon on the third floor especially, you run the risk of heat stroke,” said John Morris, president of the the Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association. He also cited the risks of dehydration and danger to students with asthma.

The American Red Cross website says younger people and the elderly are at a higher risk of experiencing health problems in extreme heat.

“Let alone the fact that the students’ ability to concentrate and be productive members of the class is really diminished when they’re sitting in pools of their own sweat,” Morris said.

The same problems affect teachers, who have the added responsibility of watching students for signs of heat-related problems.

Morris said the district has been communicating the signs and symptoms of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke to teachers. “Most building nurses are doing the same kind of communication with their staff,” he said, “especially with the younger kids who sometimes may not be able to express as clearly as older students can what they’re going through.”

Social Studies teacher Sarah Davis, who teaches on the third floor, said a gauge on the third floor read 88 degrees one day last week. She added that the gauge doesn’t measure humidity, soit certainly felt 90ish.”

Social studies teacher Andrew Glasier said the third floor is “ridiculously hot” on mild days. “Some of the rooms overlook black-top roofs that make it even worse. Many years ago, the district put in ceiling fans, which helps,” said Glasier,  “but when the temperature gets to be in the 90’s outside, it is over 100 inside those rooms. Teachers have documented oppressive heat levels of the third floor.”

“I’ve had students in the past with significant health issues that are exacerbated by the heat,” Davis said. “We also have faculty with health conditions, which makes them really become ill because of the heat. That’s not just in our building, that’s in other buildings too.”

Morris said the possibility of a heat day has been in review with the Interim Superintendent Steve Wilkins. “I’ve been communicating with Dr. Wilkins since last week. It’s been ongoing,” Morris said. “I know there were something like 18 Cleveland Metropolitan Schools that were closed last week, so we had the discussion then: If the school should have a heat day or whether or not we should do an early dismissal, since temperatures usually rise in the late afternoon.”

Students were relieved to hear of the break after last week’s oppressive mix of heat and humidity.

“Just walking around the hallways, I was a sticky, sweaty mess, and it is hard to concentrate in that environment because you’re sweating,” said sophomore Aine Jameson.“And you’re worrying if you smell bad and you get side-tracked.”

In Morris’ 22 years of teaching at Shaker, this is the first “heat day” he’s ever experienced. “So this may be precedent-setting. But I know a lot of schools are dealing with it,” he said. “One hundred and nine schools, last time I checked, had called school off today.”

While the cancellations were decided to avoid student and faculty health issues, the additional days off put further stress on teachers, who need to scramble to make their schedules work. September already featured three days off for holidays this year.

“I feel for the teachers who have a tight schedule and are working to fit everything in without these additional days off,” English teacher and IB Middle Years Programme Coordinator Molly Miles said.

Davis said that early this morning, she “spent two hours coordinating and almost finalizing for one of my classes how we’re going to change the schedule. I’m about to do the same for my other course. It has a large impact.” She will now have to adjust the adjusted schedules.

Sports practices and games were affected. The district tweeted an announcement at 11:26 am stating all middle school and high school athletic events were cancelled with the exception of the girls varsity and junior varsity volleyball games in Medina. The annual Theatre Department Social was also postponed.

The recent heat has made sports practices almost unbearable for students.

Sophomore Lily Camp, who plays on the field hockey team, said that “on days when it was 90, we would still have practice, but it was a little harder than usual, but still manageable.” She added that her coaches made sure to give extra water breaks due to the extreme temperatures. “No one passed out or anything maybe people would get a little nauseous after a track workout.”

Anna Krouse, Ashley Sah, Danielle Krantz, Ellie Vahey and Katie Cronin contributed reporting.

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