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State News

September 2, 2013

'Heat days' become more common for sweaty schools

(Continued)

CHICAGO — —

For years, schools have been moving to start the year in late or mid-August rather than just after Labor Day, when it is typically cooler. Part of the reason is that schools need more training days for standardized testing and new academic standards. Holiday breaks have also grown longer, and administrators say the only direction they can go is back into August.

In Chicago, starting a week earlier is part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's strategy to improve education in the nation's third-largest school district by getting students in school longer. Air conditioning isn't part of that plan.

"The last estimate was over a billion dollars," said Becky Carroll, a spokeswoman for Chicago's district of 700 schools. "Those aren't dollars we have."

The concerns go beyond comfort. Excessive heat makes the body work harder to maintain the ideal 98.6 temperature, and that can cause people to feel sluggish. Some worry that makes it hard to learn. Sweating helps cool things down, but children sweat less than adults, so heat can affect them more quickly.

"I was speaking with teachers yesterday and they said there were students who had to leave early, students with bloody noses, students (who) had fainting spells or fell asleep in the classroom," said Chicago state Rep. La Shawn Ford, who received a number of complaints after the start of school. "It's just not a learning environment."

Some studies have also shown that students in classrooms with air conditioning do better on achievement tests than those in classroom that don't. Vic Zimmerman, the school superintendent in the central Illinois community of Monticello, said there is simply no point in keeping kids in class. Some of his district's students were given Popsicles just to get them through morning reading time.

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