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Should you keep your kid home from school in a heat wave? Pediatrician weighs in

Click to play video: 'Should kids be kept home from school in a heat wave?'
Should kids be kept home from school in a heat wave?
WATCH: Should kids be kept home from school in a heat wave? – Jun 18, 2024

Temperatures are soaring across parts of Ontario and Quebec, with “dangerously hot and humid” weather conditions expected for most of the week, and that could mean less fun in the sun for students finishing off their school days.

The heat event is set to last until Thursday or Friday, with Environment Canada forecasting daytime highs between 30 C and 35 C, but humidex values even higher at 40 to 45.

But with the high heat come concerns not just for adults but for children as well, and some officials are sounding the alarm due to conditions in various schools.

The Thames Valley District School Board in southwestern Ontario, for example, has one union leader telling Global News that while most new schools are air-conditioned, older buildings have some portions feeling the heat. The board said it plans to upgrade the air conditioning at six schools over the summer, but that still means some schools could feel every bit of the heat wave.

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School boards like the TVDSB have put out notices updating parents and guardians on what they are doing to limit the impacts on students.

Click to play video: 'Millions of Canadians face intense heat wave'
Millions of Canadians face intense heat wave

Dr. Anna Gunz, a pediatric intensive care doctor based in London, Ont., told Global News children and youth should still stay in school where possible, though it’s always up to the parents and caregivers.

“So that education piece is also important in the day, (but) keeping your kids home, that’s going to be a personal decision,” she said.

Gunz said parents making that decision should talk with their child’s educators to find out more about what they and their schools are doing to keep kids cool, while still allowing them to engage and socialize.

However, she noted education itself can be impacted. While instruction can still go on even if a classroom has no air conditioning, she said what the student may learn can change.

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“When kids are hot, they don’t learn and their concentration isn’t good,” she said. “From a reassurance perspective, if the school is hot and there are cool places at home, are you going to be missing out on your education? But if there’s really hot environments there, then they’re not going to be able to concentrate and learn in the same way.”

Toronto District School Board says children are encouraged to wear light clothing and drink lots of water throughout the school day, as while some schools have full or partial air conditioning, others have none and thus the heat will “result in uncomfortable conditions.”

Click to play video: 'Heat wave arrives in Peterborough region'
Heat wave arrives in Peterborough region

It also notes staff will turn off lights and pull down blinds, keep doors and windows open, and use fans to provide air movement as ways to alleviate discomfort.

Hydration is an important part of ensuring a child’s health while dealing with a heat wave, but Gunz notes they don’t always want to drink liquids regularly. However, she said there are ways to get around that.

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This could include encouraging them to drink even small amounts of water often, or in some cases coming up with fun drinking games to promote water use. Milk, which she notes is “great in terms of electrolytes,” is another good option, she said.

Parents and educators should also watch for signs of dehydration, including cracked lips, dizziness, fever and not going to the washroom to urinate enough.

According to Gunz, with temperatures on the rise before summer even begins, school boards and governments need to start thinking of ways to ensure children’s health during heat events.

Those could include modifying outdoor activities for students or even putting heat days — like rain days where students are kept indoors — in place to lessen the impact.

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