TORONTO — Bill Mboutsiadis kept his young son home from school on Wednesday because he says it was just too hot inside the classroom.
“Some people say air conditioning is like hotels. No, no. This is a place to learn so they should be comfortable and it’s different form when I was in school,” he said.
Mboutsiadis’ son John is in Grade 3 and his class is on the third floor of Dovercourt Junior School in west-end Toronto.
“It’s hard to focus sometimes in art projects and language, especially in EQAO since we’re doing it in such a hot classroom. People are bringing water bottles (and) ice packs,” John said.
Bill is on the board of “Fix Our Schools,” a grassroots campaign focused on improving infrastructure, health and safety at Ontario schools. He said he has a message for the province’s next premier.
“I would like the party in power to establish a code of standards of what does it mean to have a room on a third, fourth floor, new and old buildings and what is the standard temperature,” Bill said.
“There are more regulations for kennels and dogs in Ontario for provincial cruelty. There’s no regulations for standards of how we treat kids in schools.”
He said his second son went home sick with a headache on Tuesday. Bill blamed the hot classroom for making his son ill.
Out of the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) 583 schools, 128 have full air conditioning, some have partial air conditioning, and others have no air conditioning at all.
Veronica Kutt has a daughter in Grade 6 at a North York school with only partial air conditioning. She too said she is concerned about the effects of the heat on her child.
“There’s just no air as you’re walking through the hallway and everyone is on top of each other,” Kutt said.
She acknowledged that the cost of providing air conditioning at all schools would be “astronomical,” but Kutt said she hopes the next provincial government will make it a priority.
New research from academics at Harvard and other top American universities suggested cooler classrooms are crucial to students’ education.
The “Heat and Learning” study published by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research found that students were more likely to have lower scores when temperatures were higher. It suggested air conditioning “offsets nearly all of the damaging impacts of cumulative heat exposure on academic achievement.”
“The fact is these kids deserve better, the teachers deserve better, the administrators deserve better and if we prioritize schools and education I think we can do better,” Krista Wylie, co-president of “Fix our Schools,” told Global News.
Read next: ‘Golden Jet’ Bobby Hull dies at 84
“So many things are wrong with the buildings where two million kids across the province spend their days.
“I want to see a standard in place, and as important, we need to see provincial funding that would allow school boards to meet that new standard.”
Meanwhile, Bill Mboutsiadis said the library at his sons’ school has air conditioning and it’s been deemed a cooling centre for the children. But staff and students can’t all access the area at the same time.
“What do you do? One day this class goes in the cool down area, one day another,” he said.
“I’m upset about it.”
The situation is only slightly better at schools in the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), where 139 of the 200 schools have mechanical ventilation systems and 83 of those schools have air conditioning.
The TCDSB estimated it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to provide air conditioning at all of its schools. It is currently implementing a four-year plan, like the TDSB, to install cooling centres in each school so that groups of vulnerable students can get heat relief.
With the election more than a week away, Wylie asked voters to “make sure you talk to your candidates, all of them, and say, do you know what? My local school is not in the shape I want it to be in. What are you going to do about it?”