DENVER — Right now, around 40 Denver Public Schools are without air conditioning.
The district put 14 schools on early release Tuesday to ensure classrooms are empty during the hottest hours of the day, and students at 17 schools will be released early Wednesday due to the heat.
Stedman Elementary sent kids home at 1 p.m. Tuesday. On a normal day, they'd head out for the day by 4:10 p.m. Teachers say it's that time of the afternoon when the building goes from uncomfortable to unbearably hot.
"I know that it was pretty hot in the classrooms, so totally understand why they're choosing to cut the day short," Ashley Ambrose said as she waited to pick up her 5-year-old son, Jordi, a full three hours early from his second day of school.
With no AC in classrooms, teacher Deborah Sims Fard said the first day of school was rough.
"Up until, I'd say, 1 p.m., we were fine. But then when they came back in, there was no relief. It was a hard day," Sims Fard said.
Her classroom had fans running and the blinds pulled down to block the sun. Still, it wasn't enough to stifle the heat.
"It's very hard to manage a classroom when it's 90-plus degrees," Sims Fard said. "I had students – some had headaches, some – the thirst was constant. It's really hard to keep learning going when the heat is not manageable."
Those high temperatures are impacting staff, too.
"I had a staff member that had to go out yesterday that was working in my classroom because she was getting ill," Sims Fard said. "I literally broke out in a heat rash yesterday."
By 11 a.m. Tuesday, it was 79 degrees in the cafeteria – one of two spots where there's AC running in Stedman. Upstairs, Spanish lessons were happening around noon in an 87-degree classroom.
With safety concerns lingering from the heat, they decided to let out early Tuesday.
"I'm grateful for the flexibility that the district has given me to say it's a little too hot in this school and this isn't an optimal learning environment for students," Principal Michael Atkins said.
"I think letting out at 1 p.m. is certainly helpful. Is it enough?" Sims Fard said.
Stedman was one of 24 DPS schools chosen to get AC installed when a 2020 bond was approved by voters. Atkins had hoped initially that work would be done in time for this school year.
“I was hopeful," Atkins said. "I am grateful that we are on the list to receive AC. The construction has started here and we do have a couple of areas within the school that will have running AC this year – the cafeteria and the main office. But I am hopeful that next year we can finish the work that has begun and we will come back into the building with AC."
Instead, they're utilizing heat mitigation strategies to keep the building and those inside it as cool as they can.
- Skinner Middle
- Park Hill Elementary
- McMeen Elementary
- Whittier Elementary
- Polaris Elementary
- Carson Elementary
- Godsman Elementary
- Bryant Webster Elementary
- Columbine Elementary
- Stedman Elementary
- Asbury Elementary
- Bradley Elementary
- Lincoln Elementary
- Brown Elementary
- Knapp Elementary
- University Park
- Edison Elementary
“The babies' first instinct is to run and play and be children. They’ll forget those important things as well. As adults, we just try to protect them, make sure they stay hydrated and we’re setting them up for success,” Atkins said. “We have heat mitigation efforts every morning. We open up the windows, we run fans, we open up all the classroom doors, run fans through the hall just so we can start to circulate some fresh, cooler air into the classrooms, because once those doors are closed, it gets a little warm in here."
With around 40 DPS schools currently without air conditioning and no plans to install AC in 31 of those schools, Sims Fard said she wants DPS to take action to help protect the safety of students and staff beyond these daily strategies.
“I do believe strongly that we need to look at a later school start date, after Labor Day, and just the idea that learning will not happen when environments are not safe. So even though we may be in class, students are not in class because they’re not in environments that are conducive to their learning. So I think that’s really something that needs to be looked at,” Sims Fard said.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Education stories from 9NEWS