In Nassau and western Suffolk, temperatures hit 92 degrees. With a heat advisory in effect for much of Long Island Thursday, schools had to pivot to keep students safe, NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

The majority of Long Island's 124 school districts opened this week — smack in the middle of a heat wave in which temperatures have soared into the 90s, leading to sweltering classrooms in districts that are not air-conditioned.

"You have aging infrastructures that make it very challenging to keep classrooms cool, especially during a heat wave like you have now," Port Washington Superintendent Michael Hynes said.

Hynes said the district, where at least one building dates to the 1920s, has air-conditioned spaces in any new additions, auditoriums and most of the cafeterias. Teachers and students can go to those spaces to cool down, he said. It's difficult to install window units, he said, without having to upgrade electric as well.

Regina McLean, president of the Port Washington Teachers Association, said staffers working in hot classrooms have reported that it is hard to concentrate in the extreme heat, high school students appeared to be nodding off, and one educator suffered headaches from the high temps. She said some teachers have moved their classes to cooler spaces.

The district has taken steps to address the issue, but perhaps "more aid should be coming from the state and federal government to help so it doesn't take 20 years to get it done," she said.

South Huntington school officials reported one child at the primary level was treated by a school nurse for heat exhaustion. Once the heat advisory was announced, all schools in the district canceled outdoor activities, including recess and sports, officials said.

Some districts have added air-conditioning in their budgets or bond propositions in recent years. Those include districts including Valley Stream Central, Valley Stream 30, Valley Stream 24, Elmont and New Hyde Park-Garden City Park, according to a Newsday analysis of budget data.  

Wantagh voters approved a $39 million referendum in December for HVAC upgrades, including the installation of air-conditioning in all five buildings. The projects have been submitted to the State Education Department for approval, and work should start in the summer 2024, Superintendent John McNamara said. 

The district has window units in instructional spaces, he said, but plans to upgrade unit ventilators throughout the buildings and included air-conditioning as part of the projects.

"We always had inquiries about air conditioning from the community," he said, adding the new system will be more efficient and less noisy.

Bond votes are not always successful. In October, residents in the Patchogue-Medford district rejected a $45 million proposition that included air-conditioning for classrooms.

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), an organization representing more than 600,000 working and retired educators, said on its website that it has pushed for standards for safe temperatures in buildings. A bill on the issue is expected to be reintroduced in the 2024 state legislative session.

That bill would require districts to come up with plans to alleviate extreme heat conditions when temperatures hit 82 degrees and require the school to evacuate if the temperature inside hits 88 degrees, according to the teacher's union.

“When schools are too hot, students can’t learn and teachers can’t teach. Even animal shelters have maximum heat limits. Our schools do not, and it is disrespectful to both our students and educators," NYSUT president Melinda Person said.

Jacqueline Konstantine is a parent of a kindergarten student in Cold Spring Harbor whose child's classroom did not have air conditioning at the start of school. She communicated to school officials about her concerns, and the district installed a window unit.

It is unclear whether other classrooms received window units and why her son’s classroom did not have it installed prior to the first day. She said she would like to petition for air conditioning districtwide.

“I thought of all of Long Island and how many kids everywhere are experiencing conditions like this. How are we expecting them to learn and like being at school if it’s physically uncomfortable and debilitating?" she said.

District officials alerted parents they were taking steps to address the temperatures, including adding portable air-conditioners to some classrooms.

Kathryn Lattimer is the parent of Conor, a second-grade student in the Bethpage district. She said when she picked up her son Tuesday, his face was flushed and he was lethargic.

He told her that there were fans in the room but no air-conditioning. She reached out to school officials, asking them to move the children into spaces that have air-conditioning during the heat wave. She said she is going to bring her son to work with her Thursday “since the school cannot provide a safe and equitable learning environment for him.”

She also said there are options such as switching to remote learning when classrooms reach above 90 degrees.

The majority of Long Island's 124 school districts opened this week — smack in the middle of a heat wave in which temperatures have soared into the 90s, leading to sweltering classrooms in districts that are not air-conditioned.

"You have aging infrastructures that make it very challenging to keep classrooms cool, especially during a heat wave like you have now," Port Washington Superintendent Michael Hynes said.

Hynes said the district, where at least one building dates to the 1920s, has air-conditioned spaces in any new additions, auditoriums and most of the cafeterias. Teachers and students can go to those spaces to cool down, he said. It's difficult to install window units, he said, without having to upgrade electric as well.

Regina McLean, president of the Port Washington Teachers Association, said staffers working in hot classrooms have reported that it is hard to concentrate in the extreme heat, high school students appeared to be nodding off, and one educator suffered headaches from the high temps. She said some teachers have moved their classes to cooler spaces.

The district has taken steps to address the issue, but perhaps "more aid should be coming from the state and federal government to help so it doesn't take 20 years to get it done," she said.

South Huntington school officials reported one child at the primary level was treated by a school nurse for heat exhaustion. Once the heat advisory was announced, all schools in the district canceled outdoor activities, including recess and sports, officials said.

Some districts have added air-conditioning in their budgets or bond propositions in recent years. Those include districts including Valley Stream Central, Valley Stream 30, Valley Stream 24, Elmont and New Hyde Park-Garden City Park, according to a Newsday analysis of budget data.  

Wantagh voters approved a $39 million referendum in December for HVAC upgrades, including the installation of air-conditioning in all five buildings. The projects have been submitted to the State Education Department for approval, and work should start in the summer 2024, Superintendent John McNamara said. 

The district has window units in instructional spaces, he said, but plans to upgrade unit ventilators throughout the buildings and included air-conditioning as part of the projects.

"We always had inquiries about air conditioning from the community," he said, adding the new system will be more efficient and less noisy.

Bond votes are not always successful. In October, residents in the Patchogue-Medford district rejected a $45 million proposition that included air-conditioning for classrooms.

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), an organization representing more than 600,000 working and retired educators, said on its website that it has pushed for standards for safe temperatures in buildings. A bill on the issue is expected to be reintroduced in the 2024 state legislative session.

That bill would require districts to come up with plans to alleviate extreme heat conditions when temperatures hit 82 degrees and require the school to evacuate if the temperature inside hits 88 degrees, according to the teacher's union.

“When schools are too hot, students can’t learn and teachers can’t teach. Even animal shelters have maximum heat limits. Our schools do not, and it is disrespectful to both our students and educators," NYSUT president Melinda Person said.

Jacqueline Konstantine is a parent of a kindergarten student in Cold Spring Harbor whose child's classroom did not have air conditioning at the start of school. She communicated to school officials about her concerns, and the district installed a window unit.

It is unclear whether other classrooms received window units and why her son’s classroom did not have it installed prior to the first day. She said she would like to petition for air conditioning districtwide.

“I thought of all of Long Island and how many kids everywhere are experiencing conditions like this. How are we expecting them to learn and like being at school if it’s physically uncomfortable and debilitating?" she said.

District officials alerted parents they were taking steps to address the temperatures, including adding portable air-conditioners to some classrooms.

Kathryn Lattimer is the parent of Conor, a second-grade student in the Bethpage district. She said when she picked up her son Tuesday, his face was flushed and he was lethargic.

He told her that there were fans in the room but no air-conditioning. She reached out to school officials, asking them to move the children into spaces that have air-conditioning during the heat wave. She said she is going to bring her son to work with her Thursday “since the school cannot provide a safe and equitable learning environment for him.”

She also said there are options such as switching to remote learning when classrooms reach above 90 degrees.

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