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Teachers in Washington raise concerns about lack of air conditioning in the classroom

Record springtime heat saw temperatures skyrocket at some schools.

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — Higher temperatures are raising concerns in western Washington classrooms. 

A lack of air conditioning and record springtime heat saw temperatures skyrocket at some schools over the past several days.

"We started getting flooded with messages from educators that their classrooms, even in the morning were already - like at 9 a.m. - in the 70s,” said Shannon McCann, president of the Federal Way Education Association.

By Monday afternoon, teachers reported 81 degrees in one classroom, 84 in another, and one room reaching 96 degrees, according to McCann.

"It's sweltering, it's sweltering inside,” she said.

McCann added that mid-60s is typically considered comfortable in the classroom.

"We didn't expect to be nearly 90 degrees in May. We're just not prepared for this,” McCann said.

McCann said teachers are pulling the blinds down and turning fans up, but it is still hot.

"It's so hot students are having a difficult time concentrating. Unfortunately, we even had students that were getting sick with heat related symptoms and going home early or going to the nurse's office several times,” she said.

“I have reached out to the governor's office. I have also reached out to the emergency management division,” said Rep. Kristine Reeves, D-30th Legislative District.

Rep. Reeves said she did that after hearing directly from the Federal Way Education Association. She said she's concerned about the lack of air conditioning in school buildings, as well the current state law.

"We have provisions in state law, measures for schools to shut down when the weather gets too cold, but we don't currently have any provisions in state law for schools to shut down - for administrators to make those decisions - when the weather gets too hot,” said Reeves.

"We have standardized testing, which is always a stressful time of year in May,” said McCann.

McCann says the heat is creating an extra hurdle.

"It's just getting hotter and hotter and hotter as the day goes on,” McCann said.

According to Federal Way Public Schools, there are currently eight schools with full air conditioning, two schools with partial air conditioning, and two more under construction that will have full air conditioning.

In a statement, Federal Way Public Schools said, “as we continue to plan for future school construction bonds and build new school buildings, we will continue to invest in air conditioning. As recently as 2011, it was not common practice to install cooling systems in schools in western Washington. As a result, like many school districts in our region, some schools in Federal Way Public Schools have air conditioning and others do not." 

"Over the last few years, we’ve seen temperatures increase throughout the region, and the need for cooling systems, especially during summer learning, has become more apparent," the statement continued. "On those occasions, when higher-than-normal temperatures are forecasted, Federal Way Public Schools supplies additional fans as available to those schools that do not currently have air conditioning and shares practical tips to help keep temperatures lower in the building.”

The state’s largest school district, Seattle Public Schools, has 106 buildings. 49 of the buildings have air conditioning. Two buildings have partial air conditioning, according to a district spokesperson.

McCann said there needs to be a local, state, and federal collaboration to make sure all schools are ready for the hot days Washington has been experiencing.

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