Barely back in the classroom after the COVID pandemic, some Baltimore school kids were stuck at home again this week, derailed by an even older malady: lack of air conditioning.
Although temperatures hovered around the seasonal norm for Baltimore this week, several schools found their air conditioning systems either kaput or unable to pump cooler air throughout the classrooms, and thus once more students were thrust into a virtual learning world.
On Monday, Baltimore city shut 30 schools early, sending kids home around 10:30 a.m., according to the system. On Tuesday, there were 26 city schools closed while another seven had air conditioning units under repair.
Spokespeople for the Baltimore City Public Schools did not return repeated phone calls Tuesday to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, in surrounding Baltimore County, the eight schools that shuttered Monday dropped to two on Tuesday, according to spokesman Charles Herndon. Two other schools closed Monday because they lost power altogether, Mr. Herndon said.
Since welcoming in-person classes back in late March, Baltimore County schools have become split about evenly between students in classrooms and virtual attendance, Mr. Herndon said. Consequently, this week’s closings affected only from 600 to 700 of the system’s roughly 112,000 students.
Temperatures in Baltimore on Monday and Tuesday hit 87 degrees with 67% humidity, according to AccuWeather.com, which is just two degrees above the city’s average temperature for June. Wednesday is expected to be hotter, however, with the mercury touching 90 degrees.
That could spell trouble for the 177 schools that comprise the Baltimore City system, which is already struggling with air conditioning issues.
A total of 24 city schools lack air conditioning, according to a February report that said a lack of heating is an even bigger problem and that neither problem will be solved soon.
“The district’s buildings overall are the oldest of any school district in the state, and numerous buildings need significant system upgrades or complete replacement,” the report said. “City Schools does not have sufficient funds to address these needs or even to perform necessary basic and preventative maintenance with the frequency recommended under industry standards.”
In 2016, Maryland officials withheld $5 million in funding to Baltimore City schools because of inadequate air conditioning work, and a plan was drawn up to install window units and some central systems at a cost of $29.7 million the following year.
That proved wildly optimistic, however, with subsequent examinations showing electrical systems and the like were not up to snuff. With costs of bringing electric up to grade running at $20,000 to $30,000 per classroom, officials concluded, “these costs raise the overall expense of the project to such an extent that completion by 2022-23 is no longer possible given available funds.”