BROOKLYN — As temperatures rose to unseasonably warm levels this week, many students and educators were reminded that a classroom without air conditioning can be a classroom where students have an impossible time concentrating.
But after the Department of Education refused to provide a detailed summary of every city school classroom that does and does not have air conditioning, City Councilman Brad Lander and his colleagues in the City Council are taking matters into their own hands, asking parents and teachers to tell them how many rooms in schools lack A/C units.
“This is a part of a long-term campaign to make sure we don’t have schools that are too hot to learn,” Lander said of his office's campaign for information.
“Given how much hotter it is now on many days, we need a plan to get air conditioning into the instructional spaces that don’t have it,” he added.
Lander's office is also seeking stories about how the heat has affected students' and teachers' ability to work and are asking people to share the experiences on social media using the hashtag #TooHotToLearn.
While 17 percent of more than 2,000 school buildings have central air, according to the DOE data, the vast majority — 78 percent — have "partial" air conditioning, which could mean the school has just a few rooms with A/C.
There were 90 schools with no air conditioning at all, according to the DOE report, which Lander said was too thin on information to be helpful in addressing the problem.
“We need to know what the wiring condition is like in schools and where there’s a more urgent need or where things are more far along,” Lander said. The DOE's report shows the department "is no closer to addressing the issue."
The heat has become a problem when school starts up in September and even October — as this week's 80 degree temperatures showed — as well as when kids are taking tests from April through June, officials said.
"It will take time and money to address the issue, and we need a plan," Lander said. "Unfortunately, it’s only going to get hotter.”
At one Queens school, the DOE refused to allow air conditioners to be installed — despite the fact that the school was wired for it — because they didn't want to pay the added electrical costs, according to a principal whose identity and the school's identity was withheld for fear of angering the city.
In addition, the school is not allowed to use fans because of a ban on extension cords, due to fears of a fire.
On a recent September day, the cafeteria, which has no air conditioning and only one window, was a sweltering 105 degrees.
“The kitchen workers were close to passing out,” the principal told DNAinfo.
DOE officials said they are dedicated to providing students with a comfortable learning environment in every school building and that they work closely with schools to keep rooms cool during the warmer months and ensure that water is readily available.
DOE officials also said they are looking into providing greater detail for their next report to the City Council that is due in January.