“…my children’s high school is out of breath,” writes one mother, responding to the question, “How would you rate the first week of school for your family?” in the Sunday Journal, Aug. 22.
Apparently, some of the ventilation issues that the Journal revealed in August 2019 have not been resolved. At least one primary school was also without air conditioning for three days. Still, the Journal joins the new NM secretary of public education, Kurt Steinhaus, in scorning those who advocate effective HVAC in schools.
An editorial from Aug. Journal quoted Steinhaus as saying, “I want that money to be spent in a way that creates a system of long-term improvement in New Mexico. Tutoring can do that. Teaching a child to read can do that. A new HVAC system can’t.”
However, new or updated HVAC systems can save lives and keep children and teachers healthy. CDC and EPA guidelines make it clear that ventilation is key to preventing the spread of COVID. Michael Griffith and Allie Pearce discuss this in their piece, “The Air We Breathe: Why Good HVAC Systems Are an Essential Resource for Our Students and School Staff.” They write, “As many as 10 million students… may be at risk of increased exposure to COVID-19 due to outdated and malfunctioning heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The risk is greatest in schools with predominantly colored students and students from low-income families, where districts typically lack the resources to repair or upgrade older, less healthy systems.” This sounds like Albuquerque and New Mexico.
In addition, learning in overheated classrooms, which has often been the case in Albuquerque — as the Journal reported on Aug. 9, 2019, “Region Schools Are Feeling the Heat” — is difficult and, at times, nearly impossible. A lot of research shows that rising temperatures affect cognition, behavior, test scores and more.
Liza Frenette wrote in a piece on school nurses, “Too much heat in a stifling classroom can harm the body, with effects ranging from difficulty breathing, nausea and headaches to irritability and lack of focus.”
The Washington Post reports that R. Jisung Park, of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, “claims that heat is such an important factor that it could contribute to the performance gap.” Perhaps overheated classrooms are one of the reasons children have difficulty learning in New Mexico.
Working from air-conditioned homes and offices, Steinhaus and the editors can imagine an 8-year-old trying to solve a math problem in a 90-degree classroom while wearing a mask.
I encourage the board to follow up on the Journal’s 2019 story, review extensive research into the impact of high temperatures on learning, investigate ventilation problems in New Mexico’s schools, and invite Steinhaus to spend several hours with them. , masked, in overheated classrooms.
If Steinhaus and the board want to see “long-term improvement” in the education of New Mexico’s children, they must support updated HVAC systems.
Schools should not have to choose between effective HVAC and excellent teachers and tutors. The students of New Mexico deserve both.