Extreme Heat Prompts 65 Baltimore School Closures, Student Protests

The closures sparked a debate between students and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan about who is to blame for the lack of air conditioning in city schools

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR: On Tuesday, September 4, sweltering heat forced 65 Baltimore City and 10 more county schools to close early on the first day of the school year due to a lack of air conditioning. This prompted a group of students at Baltimore City College High to hold a press conference and protest the conditions they said were unfit for learning.

OLIVIA KOULISH: It was very uncomfortable time to learn in these kind of conditions, because it’s very hot. And I was sweating, and everybody else. It’s very difficult to concentrate on the content that you’re being taught. When you’re focusing on how hot it is.

JAISAL NOOR: The lack of AC in the winter and cooling in the summer is nothing new for Baltimore school students.

SPEAKER: … My granddaughter, at four years old, go into a cold school.

JAISAL NOOR: The city has by far the oldest school buildings in the state, and the 2012 Jacobs report found that 85 percent of the city schools are in, quote, “poor condition.” Parent advocate Melissa Shober, who serves in The Real News education editorial advisory board, noted that 34,000, or 41 percent of students, were affected by the early closures.

As the students protested in Baltimore, Governor Hogan held a press conference in Annapolis to blame local officials and a lack of accountability for the lack of working AC.

LARRY HOGAN: I think it’s outrageous and disgraceful. And you know, the comptroller and I on the Board of Public Works have been raising this issue for four straight years. Dozens and dozens of times with Baltimore County and Baltimore City. The only places in the entire state who can’t seem to figure out a way to air condition in their schools. We put the funding in. We put pressure on them. We actually tried to penalize them for not doing it.

JAISAL NOOR: Throughout his time in office, Hogan has argued schools face a crisis of accountability, not funding, parroting the Koch donor network-backed think tank he served on the board of before running for governor.

Students pointed the finger back at Hogan, who’s up for re-election this year, saying he has the power to fix the problem.

A’NIYA TAYLOR: We demand the governor to send at least a $300 million aid package from the $504 million surplus he received to help Baltimore City schools get the adequate facilities in the adequate states that they deserve to be in. We demand more money and we demand justice. We demand to not have to be let out of our schools early because of the inadequate facilities.

JAISAL NOOR: The state’s own studies have found Maryland needs to spend an additional $3 billion a year to adequately fund its schools. Students pointed to audits in recent years which found no financial irregularities within the school system. Governor Hogan, Mayor Pugh, and other elected officials have pointed to the 21st Century Plan, which aims to build or renovate 28 schools. In August, the city opened five new schools. They say the schools not covered in the 21st Century Plan will receive AC units through a five year plan launched in 2017 as funds become available.

Meanwhile, Hogan’s Democratic challenger Ben Jealous blasted the governor for the lack of heating, saying, quote: “Hogan is attempting to pass the blame instead of offering solutions.” Hogan’s office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.