ANNAPOLIS, Maryland–The Maryland comptroller and an NAACP official say a disproportionate number of poor students are suffering without air conditioning, and are calling on the federal government to investigate Baltimore County schools for what they say are civil rights violations.
“The continued exposure of thousands of students – many of whom come from heavily low income households – to unhealthy and unsafe learning environments is a blatant neglect of their civil rights,” Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot and NAACP Maryland State Conference President Gerald Stansbury wrote in a letter, dated Tuesday, to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In addition to endangering students’ and teachers’ health, test performance tends to suffer when students are in hotter classrooms, according to a Harvard University study of New York public schools, to which Franchot and Stansbury referred in the letter.
In a classroom with a temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit versus one at 72 degrees Fahrenheit, students were 12.3 percent more likely to fail a subject, according to the study.
“Every school in the state should make sure that they have the proper atmosphere and a school system that’s conducive to learning,” Stansbury said Wednesday.
The county’s heat closure policy states that schools without air conditioning must close when the heat index is expected to exceed 90 before 11 a.m.
“We have an inequity issue because we have schools without air conditioning that are primarily Free and Reduced Meals kids,” said Lily Rowe, who serves on the Central Area Advisory Council for Baltimore County Public Schools.
At 29 of the 36 schools that lack air conditioning, the majority of students receive Free and Reduced-price Meals — known as FARMs and provided to students from lower-income families — from the school.
“There’s disparity already in the education system and its been proven,” Stansbury said. “Of course those kids are now not getting their learning and those kids are now not getting their lunches.”
Though Baltimore County has reduced the number of schools without central air conditioning, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz continues to face criticism for refusing to install portable window units while hot schools await central air.
“When I came into office six years ago, I inherited a mess,” Kamenetz said in an email statement. “Here are the facts: We’ve gone from 90 schools without air in 2011 down to 13 schools next year, and then to 0. By any standard, that is historic progress.”
Rowe said that parents agree with Kamenetz’s long-term plan, but it “does not solve the problem right now.”
Rowe created the “BCPS Parents & Teachers for Equitable Facilities & Portable ac” Facebook group, which now has more than 3,000 members.