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School officials raise cost concerns as campuses require more air conditioning to keep students from overheating: 'It's miserable'

"The real feel in the classrooms is well over 90 degrees because of the humidity."

"The real feel in the classrooms is well over 90 degrees because of the humidity."

Photo Credit: iStock

Rising global temperatures are making it difficult for students to attend school in the northern United States, where many schools don't have air conditioning — and never needed it, until now. 

What's happening?

As the world overheats because of planet-warming pollution from dirty fuels, many schools in the U.S. are struggling to adapt to the changing climate. As The Washington Post reported, around 40% of the schools in the country were built over 50 years ago in a much cooler climate, where many could get by without AC. 

However, times have changed, and vast swaths of the northern U.S. are experiencing temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit for at least one month per year when school is in session, the Post detailed. Soaring temperatures are not only making it harder for students to learn, but also cutting into their time spent in the classroom. 

The Post reported that all across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, school administrators had no choice but to send kids home early or postpone the first day of school last fall because of brutal heatwaves. 

"We have had situations where it's been 88 degrees outside but the real feel in the classrooms is well over 90 degrees because of the humidity," the president of the Cleveland Teachers Union, Shari Obrenski, told the outlet. 

"It's miserable … students throwing up, not being able to keep their heads up, just horrible conditions," she said.

Why is the lack of air conditioning in schools concerning?

As heatwaves and higher temperatures become more common in our warming world, simply attending school could be dangerous for thousands of students. Prolonged exposure to heat can trigger asthma attacks, migraines, fatigue, dizziness, and disrupt learning, as the Post explained

Some students get so exhausted from the heat that they sleep through class. The outlet reported that one Philadelphia high school student said his classmates often pass out because of the extreme indoor temperatures.

Jacque Kinnick, a middle school teacher in Fort Collins, Colorado, saw the same troubling scene play out in her classroom. 

"It's like you can actually see kids just wilting," she told the Post. "They're sweating, they're laying their heads on the desk."

Unfortunately, it's an expensive problem to fix — the outlet reported the cost to install air conditioning in the thousands of public schools that need it could be upward of $40 billion, citing statistics from The Center for Climate Integrity, an environmentalist organization. 

As temperatures climb, school districts hope for state funding or voter support to pass school repair bonds to address the lack of air conditioning. But with many outdated AC units that need replacing on top of the ones that haven't ever been installed, it's a race against the clock to beat the climate.

What's being done about installing air conditioning in schools?

In Philadelphia, the district has been able to cool some of its classrooms because of government pandemic aid and a generous $200,000 donation from Jalen Hurts, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. The school district aims to have air conditioning in all its classrooms by 2027. 

According to the Post, bond measures in some school districts have provided funding for not only air conditioning but also air source or geothermal heat pumps, which provide cleaner electric energy. 

Clean energy from wind and solar is coming online at a record pace, which will put the breaks on soaring temperatures.

We can also help cool the planet by switching to an electric vehicle, installing solar panels, or even buying secondhand clothing. Luckily, clean energy incentives such as the Inflation Reduction Act are making it easier and cheaper to go green. Even small changes, multiplied by millions of people, can have a huge impact.

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