Parents are calling on the Ontario government to take action on the lack of air conditioning in schools across the province amid record high temperatures.
“Our classrooms don’t have air conditioning, some of the windows don’t open or they don’t have any windows,” said Jessica Raymond, mother of two boys.
“You’re supposed to be at school learning. Concentrating when you’re sweating and you’re uncomfortable? I don’t know how much they’re going to get done.”
Raymond is one of many Toronto parents who decided to keep their children home from school on this sweltering hot September day, as temperatures soared to more than 30 C.
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Instead, she set up a baby pool and a sprinkler in her backyard for the boys to stay cool. In the afternoon, they will hit the books inside their air-conditioned home to stay on top of their lessons.
Another mother, Krista Wylie, whose teenage daughter is spending her day inside a hot classroom, blames the provincial government for a lack of funding to address the unbearable conditions inside GTA schools.
“If Kathleen Wynne, who I bet is sitting in an air-conditioned office right now, prioritizes our children as the future, then her government will prioritize our kids and start to look at schools as the important infrastructure they really are,” Wylie said who launched the Fix Our Schools campaign three years ago.
Wylie insisted there are options available for classroom temperatures in Ontario that cannot be rolled out until provincial funding is made available.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is also calling on the government to address extreme heat and humidity conditions in schools.
“Students and teachers in many classrooms are subject to unbearable conditions with temperatures over 30 C. That takes an unacceptable toll on teaching and learning,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond.
“Schools found themselves in the same situation one year ago. Our changing climate is sending a strong message that the Ministry of Education needs to take action. Too much student learning will be lost the longer the ministry delays.”
ETFO passed a series of motions in August that called on the government to take action in elementary schools with a heat stress plan, maximum indoor temperature limits to be set and air conditioning or heat reduction systems to be installed.
But the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) said it is not possible to provide air conditioning in all of its schools that currently do not have it.
There are 548 schools in the TDSB and only 125 have air conditioning. Others have partial air conditioning, or none at all.
“It would reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and that’s not to mention the maintenance costs, repair costs and operational costs,” TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said, adding “it’s just not possible financially right now.”
Bird says there is a plan in place, however, to install cooling centres, although it would take five to seven years.
“Installed in places like gyms or libraries, large areas that we could circulate kids in and out of during the day on these hot days,” he said. “So they at least get some cooling off time during the year.”
Until that happens, parents like Jessica Raymond will keep their children home from school on sweltering hot days.