Cold classrooms have some Bowie parents fired up.
About 50 of them gathered at Whitehall Elementary last week to exchange information about the problem and try to figure out how to solve it.
Representatives of parent-teacher organizations from Whitehall Elementary, Samuel Ogle Middle School and Bowie High School were among those in attendance.
Heat has been spotty in some classrooms at Whitehall, Ogle and Bowie during the recent cold snap, parents said. Large sections of Ogle and Bowie High School were without heat earlier this week before maintenance workers rectified the problem.
Katie Moran, the president of the Whitehall Parent-Teacher Association, organized last week’s meeting after county education officials seemed unresponsive to her concerns about the temperatures inside some classrooms.
Whitehall Elementary PTA president discusses lack of heat in classrooms
“It started when kids were reporting to their parents that they were having to wear their coats in the classroom and parents were having to keep their kids home more often because they were having colds and things like that,” she said. “That’s when our parent base really started to build some momentum in realizing the county wasn’t responding in the way we would expect them to when it comes to the conditions in our classrooms.”
After repeated requests from Moran and others, the county was able to provide space heaters in classrooms, which brought temperatures up to the low 60s – 68 degrees is considered standard. One parent reported a classroom temperature reading at Samuel Ogle of 49 degrees one morning, she said.
According to Sam Stefanelli, Director of Building Services for Prince George’s County Public Schools, the problem is that the county doesn’t have to money to replace all the failing heat systems at its schools. So, his department must do the best it can to provide temporary fixes.
Priorities are also an issue, he said at the meeting with parents.
“When I have 20 schools that don’t see heat at all, you’re not going to see my mechanics” at places where the temperature problems are less severe, he said. “It’s not that they’re not coming here. But they have to get those (non-working) systems up first. Then they’re working their way to other systems.
“It’s gotten to the point where there’s so many of them, we’re not able to keep up on a daily basis. So, we’re bringing in contractors to try to supplement our work force.”
According to school system documents, there were more than 800 open work orders for heat-related problems inside the county’s 230 school buildings as of last week. Ten of those work orders involved problems at Bowie High School.
Cold classrooms aren’t the only temperature issue. According to Katie Eckenrode, the PTSO president at Bowie High School, some classrooms there are unbearably hot – even during the winter months.
The temperature problems at either extreme are creating a learning environment that is less than ideal, she said.
“I think it seriously impedes your ability to pay attention to a teacher,” she said. “It makes it impossible to focus on the work in front of you. What I’m hot, I’m grouchy. The teachers are grouchy. They’ve been in these classrooms all day long. Research shows that the learning environment is a huge factor in kids’ ability to pay attention to their schoolwork … I just don’t think the research is wrong there.”
The key to fixing the problem is to lobby elected officials for more money from the state for county schools. Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith urged parents at the meeting to email elected officials at the county and state level.
“This is a huge problem – much bigger than any of us suspected,” Valentino-Smith told those at the meeting. “Bowie has a problem, the county has a problem. We’ve got the big picture now.”
Moran and Eckenrode say they need to channel the parental frustration into action and will try to formulate a strategy to convince officials to make necessary changes in the school budget and policy.
“I think tonight we saw a show of real frustration, a real boiling point, where people are saying ‘I can’t take this any more,’ ” Eckenrode said. “Parents need to take that passion and that fire to the governor, to (County Council member) Todd Turner and it needs to be relentless. You can’t let up.”
via Capital Gazzette