A classroom with a window air conditioner unit at Wantagh...

A classroom with a window air conditioner unit at Wantagh Elementary School in Wantagh on Sept. 6, 2023 Credit: Rick Kopstein

ALBANY — School districts may end up canceling school for “heat days” under a bill approved by the State Legislature last week that would set maximum temperature levels in classrooms and learning spaces and in extreme cases require students be sent home.

The measure, which now heads to Gov. Kathy Hochul for her consideration, would require public schools to take action such as turning on fans and pulling down blinds if room temperatures reach 82 degrees. If temperatures hit 88 degrees, students and staff would not be allowed to occupy the space, according to the bill. 

The proposed legislation aimed at protecting the health of students and teachers comes as school districts statewide and across Long Island have faced rising temperatures in recent years because of climate change, experts said.

“Classroom temperatures have been recorded at over 100 degrees this time of year, making it near-impossible to learn or teach,” said Sen. James Skoufis (D-Cornwall), the bills' Senate sponsor, in a statement. “When temperatures exceed even 90 degrees, there is overwhelming evidence — and common sense — demonstrating students are unable to fully absorb information, and teachers are unable to perform at their usual high level.”

Health experts say increased heat can not only adversely affect the health of students, but also their mental health and ability to learn.

New York State United Teachers president Melinda Person in a statement Saturday said the statewide heat standards are a “vital step toward making sure our classrooms are healthy spaces where the focus can be on teaching and learning.”

Some education groups, though supportive of efforts to keep students and staff safe, have concerns about the implementation of the bill.

“It’s challenging to think that districts should be mandated or be bound to act in this way on something like this,” said Brian Fessler, director of governmental relations for the New York State School Boards Association. The bill is “a bit of a blunt instrument,” he said, adding that it brings up questions surrounding when districts send students home. School districts also could feel obligated to upgrade their infrastructure, such as air conditioning systems, at a cost to state or local taxpayers, Fessler said. 

Hochul’s office said she will review the legislation, which, if approved, would take effect in September 2025. 

State law currently imposes a minimum classroom temperature of 65 degrees, but there are no legal limits for maximum temperatures.

The bill would require school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services to develop policies for extreme heat conditions in educational and support service spaces. The measure excludes certain areas such as kitchens.

If the temperature hits 82 degrees, the bill encourages schools to turn off overhead lights, open classroom doors and windows, and turn off unused electronics that produce heat. Students and staff would be required to move to another space if temperatures reach 88 degrees, or if necessary, evacuate the school.

“We have high and low temperatures for animals in shelters and yet not to protect our own students in the classroom is really pitiful,” Assemb. Chris Eachus (D-Central Valley), the bill’s Assembly sponsor and a retired teacher told Newsday.

Extreme heat can exacerbate asthma and lead to multiple cardiovascular diseases, said Shao Lin, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health.

Studies have shown students’ test scores are affected and often lower when temperatures are high and schools don’t have air conditioning, Lin said.

School business officials as well as superintendent and school board groups that oppose the bill question whether students would be moved or sent home based on a momentary temperature change.

Sending students home presents its own challenges, including disrupting families at work and potentially sending students to even warmer home environments, the groups said in an opposition memo.

It also could disrupt the school calendar and districts by law are required to be in session for 180 days or risk losing state aid, Fessler said.

Though the bill doesn’t expressly say districts need to install air conditioning, they may decide to do so to comply with the law.

Eachus said they pushed the implementation deadline back to September 2025 to try to accommodate for any changes school districts would need to make. 

Districts can use state building aid, but if more funding is needed, Eachus said he would support a push for more aid in next year's state budget process. 

ALBANY — School districts may end up canceling school for “heat days” under a bill approved by the State Legislature last week that would set maximum temperature levels in classrooms and learning spaces and in extreme cases require students be sent home.

The measure, which now heads to Gov. Kathy Hochul for her consideration, would require public schools to take action such as turning on fans and pulling down blinds if room temperatures reach 82 degrees. If temperatures hit 88 degrees, students and staff would not be allowed to occupy the space, according to the bill. 

The proposed legislation aimed at protecting the health of students and teachers comes as school districts statewide and across Long Island have faced rising temperatures in recent years because of climate change, experts said.

“Classroom temperatures have been recorded at over 100 degrees this time of year, making it near-impossible to learn or teach,” said Sen. James Skoufis (D-Cornwall), the bills' Senate sponsor, in a statement. “When temperatures exceed even 90 degrees, there is overwhelming evidence — and common sense — demonstrating students are unable to fully absorb information, and teachers are unable to perform at their usual high level.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • School districts may end up canceling school for “heat days” under a bill approved by the State Legislature last week.
  • The legislation would set maximum temperature levels in classrooms and learning spaces and in extreme cases require students be sent home.
  • It would require public schools to take action such as turning on fans and pulling down blinds if room temperatures reach 82 degrees. If temperatures hit 88 degrees, students and staff would not be allowed to occupy the space. 

Health experts say increased heat can not only adversely affect the health of students, but also their mental health and ability to learn.

New York State United Teachers president Melinda Person in a statement Saturday said the statewide heat standards are a “vital step toward making sure our classrooms are healthy spaces where the focus can be on teaching and learning.”

Some education groups, though supportive of efforts to keep students and staff safe, have concerns about the implementation of the bill.

“It’s challenging to think that districts should be mandated or be bound to act in this way on something like this,” said Brian Fessler, director of governmental relations for the New York State School Boards Association. The bill is “a bit of a blunt instrument,” he said, adding that it brings up questions surrounding when districts send students home. School districts also could feel obligated to upgrade their infrastructure, such as air conditioning systems, at a cost to state or local taxpayers, Fessler said. 

Hochul’s office said she will review the legislation, which, if approved, would take effect in September 2025. 

Heat days

State law currently imposes a minimum classroom temperature of 65 degrees, but there are no legal limits for maximum temperatures.

The bill would require school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services to develop policies for extreme heat conditions in educational and support service spaces. The measure excludes certain areas such as kitchens.

If the temperature hits 82 degrees, the bill encourages schools to turn off overhead lights, open classroom doors and windows, and turn off unused electronics that produce heat. Students and staff would be required to move to another space if temperatures reach 88 degrees, or if necessary, evacuate the school.

“We have high and low temperatures for animals in shelters and yet not to protect our own students in the classroom is really pitiful,” Assemb. Chris Eachus (D-Central Valley), the bill’s Assembly sponsor and a retired teacher told Newsday.

Extreme heat can exacerbate asthma and lead to multiple cardiovascular diseases, said Shao Lin, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health.

Studies have shown students’ test scores are affected and often lower when temperatures are high and schools don’t have air conditioning, Lin said.

Questions and concerns

School business officials as well as superintendent and school board groups that oppose the bill question whether students would be moved or sent home based on a momentary temperature change.

Sending students home presents its own challenges, including disrupting families at work and potentially sending students to even warmer home environments, the groups said in an opposition memo.

It also could disrupt the school calendar and districts by law are required to be in session for 180 days or risk losing state aid, Fessler said.

Though the bill doesn’t expressly say districts need to install air conditioning, they may decide to do so to comply with the law.

Eachus said they pushed the implementation deadline back to September 2025 to try to accommodate for any changes school districts would need to make. 

Districts can use state building aid, but if more funding is needed, Eachus said he would support a push for more aid in next year's state budget process. 

NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer.  Credit: Randee Daddona; Newsday / A.J. Singh

A taste of summer on Long Island NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer. 

NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer.  Credit: Randee Daddona; Newsday / A.J. Singh

A taste of summer on Long Island NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer. 

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