Is the ‘Heat Day’ the New Snow Day?

Students outside Fort Lee High School in New Jersey, after they were dismissed early Thursday because of excessive heat.CreditCreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

By Zoe Greenberg

  • Sept. 6, 2018

One of the most precious rituals for a student in the Northeast is to peer out the window on a winter morning, witness a flurry of snow, and realize that there’s no need to cram for that test — snow day!

But “heat days” might soon become just as regular an occurrence. With extreme temperatures blanketing towns in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York this week, schools in dozens of districts across the region where air conditioning is not always the norm closed early or canceled after-school activities.

On Thursday, as temperatures climbed above 90, more than two dozen New Jersey districts dismissed students early. Dozens of schools in Connecticut, including those in West Haven, Milford, Naugatuck, Waterbury, Bristol and Farmington, did the same. And in New York, at least two districts closed schools early, with a number of others canceling after-school sports.

School went on as scheduled in New York City, which has invested about $29 million to install air conditioning units in all its classrooms by 2022 and currently 80 percent of instructional spaces have working air-conditioning, according to city officials.

After being dismissed early because of the heat, some Fort Lee students sought out hydration.CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, the state teachers’ union, called for school administrators to develop plans for excess heat. 

“From Long Island to Central New York, we’re looking at heat indexes of 100 degrees. It’s very hot, and the kids are lethargic,” he said.

The union is pushing for legislation that would require New York schools to plan for “extreme heat condition days” and shut down classrooms if temperatures inside rise above 88 degrees.

Teachers across the region described buildings with internal temperatures over 100 degrees, listless students, and flagging attention in the classroom. No single organization tracks how many districts and schools have air conditioning.

September is highly likely to be hotter than average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. Schools in areas that are not accustomed to such hot weather, from Maryland to Pennsylvania to Ohio, also closed early this week.

And this may be just the beginning, as the effects of global warming build. In Cranford, N.J., for example, where students were released early this week due to the heat, a third grader born in 2010 may have experienced, on average, about 12 days above 90 degrees annually when she was born. By the end of the century, there could be 33 of those very hot days annually in Cranford, according to a New York Times analysis, meaning that the number of “extreme heat days” during the school year could rise sharply.


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