Hawaii officials fail to protect children from heat

Hawaii's State Legislature and the Department of Education need to take action to protect school children from sweltering heat.


HONOLULU, August 21, 2015 – The classrooms in Hawaii are on fire. With the 2015-2016 school year starting on July 29, students are literally sweating their way through academics.

The average temperatures for Hawaii in the months of July and August are in the 90’s, and 90 percent of the public schools in Hawaii do not have air conditioners. As a result, teachers, parents and students report temperatures inside the classroom are up to 108 degrees.

Teachers are sending their students to the nurse’s office because of heat exhaustion, headaches and dehydration. School is no longer just a concern about calendars and instructional days; it is now a matter of public health and safety.

Hawaii does not have the mechanical infrastructure to send public school students back to school in late July or early August. Our children are being neglected and their health and safety is in jeopardy.

There are two options to fix this immediate health problem: A) spend the $1.7 billion to put air conditioners in all Hawaii public schools or B) push back the start date for Hawaii public schools to after Labor Day.

It is unlikely Hawaii has the finances to spend $1.7 billion dollars on air conditioning for schools, especially since Hawaii’s Senate Ways and Means and House Finance Committees agreed on a state budget of $23.8 billion for fiscal year 2014-2015. (Hawaii 24/7:2014). In other words, there is no money to retrofit schools with adequate air conditioning.

That suggests Option B, moving the school start date, is the only real option.

Schools around the country and even Hawaii have traditionally started school around Labor Day. So why has Hawaii changed to beginning the school year to the height of summer?

Hawaii has dispersed the school breaks among the calendar for better retention of information for the students. The theory is that students lose some of knowledge when they have longer breaks, requiring teachers to eteach information from the previous year.

The new school calendar, where children are attending school in the sweltering months, has also been implemented because it is conducive to the standardized testing schedule. The head of Hawaii’s teachers union, Corey Rosenlee, told Hawaii News Now “The nice thing about ending at winter break is that lessons are done, tests are done. Over a three-week break, kids can forget stuff and so you want to sort of complete their lessons when everything is done”.

Hawaii could use best practices of schools around the country and reflect on their school calendars. Hawaii has 180 instructional days in a school year, and by cutting back on unnecessary holidays/breaks and non instructional days, Hawaii’s school calendar would not have to start or finish during the excruciating hot summer months.

The children and teachers of Hawaii are being exposed to conditions that are unacceptable for most working environments. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends “temperature control in the range of 68-76 degrees F” for office temperatures. Also the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 55, Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy, state that “thermal comfort in an office environment, which means that an employee wearing a normal amount of clothing feels neither too cold nor too warm.” The Hawaii State Department of Health requires that employers provide “fresh air” for employees.

How can we expect our students to learn, retain and even score high on standardized tests in such hot climates when we don’t even expect the working adults to function without air conditioning?

This health and safety issue must be dealt with immediately. Grades and test scores are not the only things suffering. Children are physically suffering by being forced to sit in sauna-like conditions. The reports of heat exhaustion, headaches, dehydration and other physical problems exemplify the problems of overheated classrooms.

If the state is not willing to pay $1.7 billion to protect children from these extreme conditions, then the only other option is for the Department of Education to start public schools after Labor Day.

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Jaci Agustin
Jaci is a youthful Native American woman (Salish), who was once homeless as a child. Jaci's experience includes; co-authoring a nationally recognized curriculum, being crowned Mrs. Hawai‘i 2013, serving as a Legislative Media Liaison, and a guest co-host for the 808-State Update Radio Show. Jaci is active in the political scene in Hawai‘i and offers a different outlook on being conservative.