B.C. parents say schools need AC to keep kids, staff safe

Click to play video: 'May heatwave re-kindles debate over conditions in B.C. schools'
May heatwave re-kindles debate over conditions in B.C. schools
The temperatures might be cooling down a bit, but B.C.'s recent record-breaking weather has re-heated the debate over the conditions in schools. Christa Dao reports. – May 22, 2023

While temperatures are cooler across most of the province to wrap up the May long weekend, the recent wave of record-breaking weather has reheated the debate over conditions in the province’s schools.

Parents of children in Crosstown Elementary in downtown Vancouver are speaking out about the heat in their school.

They told Global News that temperatures in the school last week regularly reached more than 29 C. Some parents said their children had to come home.

Veronica Collins has two children that go to the school. One is eight and one is six.

“We’ve had a heat problem across town for a while,” Collins said. “I’d say the last two years that’s been on my radar. During the heat dome, a teacher fainted. They had to close the school for a while, but this year, with the heat in May, it just became a problem early on and the kids were already mentioning it. And then this last week was so warm that when my husband dropped off my kindergardener, Sebastian, at 9 a.m., it was over 29 C.”

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She said after learning this, they started taking reading throughout the week inside the school and discovered the average temperature was 29,3 C with no children in the classroom and doors and windows open.

“Then when we would go in and take photographs of thermostats during lunchtime and after school, it was always quite warm,” Collins added. “I think the lowest temperature reading we got all week was over 27 C and the average when we did the math was 29.3. We were getting temperatures of up to 33 C in classrooms. And again, those are empty classrooms with windows open. So you can imagine how stifling it would be for students and staff during instructional time.”

Click to play video: 'First stretch of hot weather hits B.C.'
First stretch of hot weather hits B.C.

Collins said her eight-year-old daughter told her she felt hot, dizzy and faint on those hottest days. Her daughter said their teacher was taking them to the rooftop garden to spray them down with a hose. Her youngest said his head hurt and other kids in the classroom “didn’t feel good.”

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She said she also heard one teacher took her class to the beach for the day and a couple of classes even went to Costco to take advantage of the air conditioning.

They were able to take their children out of school over the two hottest days, but she knows not every parent is able to do that.

“And obviously, I don’t think parents should have to weigh that as a concern. Do I drop my kid off? Is it safe to drop my kid off or do I pull them out of school here?” Collins added.

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Hot weather causes water supply shortages on Gulf Islands

In a statement to Global News, the Ministry of Education and Child Care said school districts are the owners and operators of their facilities.

Districts can use resources from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control to plan for excessive heat events and can request funding for heating ventilation and air conditioning system improvements through the ministry’s School Enhancement Program (SEP) and the Carbon Neutral Capital Program.

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The ministry also said school districts can also address its HVAC priorities through the Ministry’s Annual Facility Grant, which is part of the $261.1 million that the provincial government is providing for school maintenance projects.

Nine-year-old Aria Jamal attends Crosstown Elementary School and said last week her teacher took them outside as much as they could but Aria said they weren’t learning much when they were outside.

“It’s also that it’s just really hot, and sometimes it makes us tired,” she said.

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Lifeguard shortage impacting popular pools, beaches

Aria’s mom, Shafina, has two children that attend the elementary school and a five-year-old that attends the daycare attached to the school.

She told Global News that dropping her kids off in the morning felt like walking into a heat dome.

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“Sometimes I don’t have the option of working from home,” Shafina said. “And last week was one of that. And I dealt with major anxiety myself because I just felt like a terrible mom sending my kids to school when it was so hot, when, you know, I didn’t have the option of them staying at home. So it was a really difficult week just dealing with that.”

She said her eight-year-old had to be picked up early on Friday because she wasn’t feeling well and then spent the evening throwing up.

Safina said, in her opinion, there’s no way around it. Schools have to be air-conditioned.

“I know there’s the argument that Vancouver doesn’t really need air conditioning. And I would say, yes, it does. You can just look at the statistics of how hot the days have been over the last several years. It’s a problem.”

In a statement to Global News, the Vancouver School Board said schools are working to keep learning comfortable for students and staff.

“This includes controlling the amount of sunlight where possible by closing blinds, opening windows and doors to improve air circulation and taking part in outdoor learning in the shade where possible. Classes may conduct activities in larger open spaces such as cafeterias, gymnasiums or cooler locations within the school.

“Students and staff are also being reminded of tips they can personally take such as wearing clothing that is appropriate for hot weather, participating in low-intensity activities only, and staying well hydrated through access, as needed, to water fountains/water bottle filling stations.”

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Heat related emergency response plan for seniors

Collins said something more needs to be done to support and foster their community.

I love our school. Our teachers are absolutely incredible. Across town, the community is incredible,” she said. “I love our principal and they really deserve support. They have done so much through COVID and then post-COVID and in a community with so many different demographics going on.

“They deserve support in this area and I know they’ve done everything they can. So I just want to say let’s support our teachers and our staff as well as our kids and get safer environments.”

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