Heat causes early dismissals

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High temperatures throughout the region and especially here in Switzerland County have caused school officials to close early in order to relieve some of the stress on students and teachers.

Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jones ordered all Switzerland County schools to close early yesterday (Wednesday) and also today (Thursday). Students will be dismissed following lunch between noon and 1 p.m.

“I was in Jefferson-Craig at 7 a.m. this morning (Wednesday) and it was already 82 degrees in the classrooms,” Dr. Jones said. “The buses are also very hot for students, so it was just prudent to send the children home early.”

A big part of the problem is that the air conditioning units at Jefferson-Craig Elementary School have been broken down since shortly after this school year got underway, and as temperatures rise in the 90s, teachers and staff have been asking parents to send in fans to help cool the rooms, and students have been allowed to have bottled water at their desks.

The air conditioning system will have to be completely replaced, and school officials are working as quickly as possible to locate and contract with a company who can get the work done – but it may not be fixed until fall break at the end of October.

The Switzerland County School Endowment Corporation has already approved money to replace the heating and air conditioning system, but Dr. Jones says that it is now a matter of finding a company capable of doing such a large job and then getting them here to get it done.

“The school board, along with the endowment corporation, are saying that whatever I need to do to take emergency action, they are supporting me,” Superintendent Jones said. “They have given me the authority to act in this emergency, and the system at Jeff-Craig is totally down and it’s not repairable, so we are trying to move forward with emergency measures.”

With cooler weather expected on Friday, Dr. Jones said that she expects students and staff to end the week with a full day of school; but she said that should high temperatures warrant another half day – she won’t hesitate to take action.

“What’s really important here are our children and their health,” the superintendent said. “(Transportation director) Ivan Green told me that on two different buses on Tuesday the temperature was over 100 degrees inside the bus. That’s not good for our children, so we need to take prudent action.”

Dr. Jones said that with no sure repair date set, she has considered alternative actions, including putting classes in the cafeteria – which is cooled by the middle school air conditioning unit; as well as using the Old Gym if necessary.

“Do I want to do that? No.” Dr. Jones said. “But this seems like the best way to hand the next couple of days. If we get more prolonged hot weather, then we may look at other options.”

Dr. Jones is also fully aware of the stress that early closings put on parents and caregivers for children. She said that is why she made the decision early to send children home today (Thursday) as well, and will make every effort to keep parents as informed as possible during the heat wave.

“We’re dealing with the heat, and we’re doing what we can to solve this problem,” Dr. Jones said.